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Gramophone - Phonograph, Emile Berliner

Gramophone - Phonograph,  Emile Berliner

Gramophone - Phonograph, Emile Berliner


Emile Berliner (May 20, 18521 – August 3, 1929) was a German -born American inventor, best known for developing the disc record gramophone (phonograph in American English).


Born in Hanover, Germany, Emile Berliner immigrated to the United States of America in 1870, where he established himself in Washington D.C. After some time working in a livery stable, he became interested in the new audio technology of the telephone and phonograph, and invented an improved telephone transmitter (one of the first type of microphones) which was acquired by the Bell Telephone Company. Berliner subsequently moved to Boston in 1877 and worked for Bell Telephone until 1883, when he returned to Washington and established himself as a private researcher.

Emile Berliner became a United States citizen in 1881.


In 1886 Berliner began experimenting with methods of sound recording. He was granted his first patent for what he called the gramophone in 1887. The first gramophones recorded sound using horizontal modulation on a cylinder coated with a low resistance material such as lamp black, subsequently fixed with varnish and then copied by photoengraving on a metal playback cylinder. This was similar to the method employed by Edison’s machines.


The inventor of the record disc

In 1888 Berliner invented a simpler way to record sound by using discs. Within a few years he was successfully marketing his technology to toy companies. However, he hoped to develop his device as more than a mere toy, and in 1895 persuaded a group of businessmen to put up $25,000 with which he created the Berliner Gramophone Company.


A problem with early gramophones was getting the turntable to rotate at a steady speed during playback of a disc. Engineer Eldridge R. Johnson helped solve this problem by designing a clock-work spring-wound motor. In 1901 Berliner and Johnson teamed up to found the Victor Talking Machine Company.


Berliner went on to found  The Gramphone Company in London, Enland, in 1897, Deutsche Grammophon in Hanover , Germany, in 1898 and Berliner Gramo-o-phone Company of Canada in Montreal in 1899 (chartered in 1904).


Berliner Gramophone

(also known as E. Berliner's Gramophone) was an early record label, the first company to produce disc "gramophone records" (as opposed to the earlier phonograph cylinder records).

Emile Berliner started marketing his disc records in 1889. These records were five inches in diameter, and offered only in Europe. At first, the use of his disc records was leased to various toy companies, which made toy phonographs or gramophones to play them on; the audio fidelity of these earliest discs was well below that of contemporary phonograph cylinder records.




Deutsche Grammophon

In 1898 Berliner started a German branch of the Gramophone Company in Hanover, Berliner’s birthplace. The company produced his disc records under the brand Deutsche Grammophon, a German classical record label, long renowned for its high standards of audio fidelity. Until 1901 Berliner records had no labels; instead the information was etched or impressed into the master. Most pre-1901 records bear the exact date of recording. These records were almost always single-sided, although a few double-sided pressings exist from 1900.


The German company had business relations with the U.S. Victor Talking Machine Company and the British Gramophone Company, but those links were severed at the onset of World War I.


In 1941 Deutsche Grammophon was purchased by the Siemens & Halske electronics company.

In 1945 as part of Germany's surrender terms ending World War II, Deutsche Grammophon forfeited its rights to the His Master’s Voice trademark to EMI. The dog and gramophone were replaced by the "crown of tulips".



The Gramophone Company

In 1897 Berliner opened up a United Kingdom branch in London. The company was founded and owned by William Barry Owen and Trevor Williams. They were the UK partners of Berliner’s US operation.


The UK Gramophone Company, was one of the early recording companies, and was the parent organization for the famous "His Master's Voice" label. In December 1900 William Owen gained the manufacturing rights for the Lambert Typewriter Company and The Gramophone Company was for a few years renamed Gramophone & Typewriter Ltd.


Although the company was merged with another in 1931 to form Electric and Musical Industries Limited (EMI), the company title as "The Gramophone Company Limited" continued in use in Britain into the 1970s.


United States Gramophone Company

In 1892 Berliner incorporated the United States Gramophone Company in Washington D.C. This company offered the first disc records (now seven inches in diameter and no longer intended as a toy.


In 1900 the United States Gramophone Company lost a patent infringement suit, brought on by Columbia Records and Zonophone and was no longer permitted to produce records in the USA.


From one day to the next, Eldridge R. Johnson, who was the manufacturer of the talking machine for Berliner’s Gramophone Company, was being left with a large factory and thousands of talking machines with no records to play on them. Johnson immediately filed suit to be permitted to make records himself. He won, in spite of the negative verdict against Berliner.


Because of this victory Johnson named his new record company the Victor Talking Machine Company. It is likely that Johnson victory was in part due to a patent-pooling handshake agreement with Columbia that allowed the latter to begin producing flat records themselves (all Columbia records had previously been cylinders).


Contrary to some sources, the Victor Talking Machine Company was never a branch or subsidiary of Gramophone.  Johnson owned the factory and many mechanical patents that were valuable in the patent pool agreement with Columbia. Thus, Victor and Columbia began making flat records in America. UK Gramophone and others continuing to do so outside America.  Edison remained the only major player in the making of cylinders and Emile Berliner, the inventor of flat records, didn’t have a business any longer. All he was left with were the master recordings of his earlier records, which he took to Canada and reformed his Berliner label in Montreal.  


Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada

E. Berliner Gramophone of Canada was established in 1899 in Montreal and first marketed records and gramophones the following year. In 1904, the company received its charter as the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada.


Early recordings were imported from masters recorded in the United States until a recording studio in Montreal was established in 1906.


In February 1909 the company introduced new labels featuring the famous trademark known as "His Master's Voice," generally referred to as HMV, to distinguish them from earlier labels which featured an outline of the Recording Angel trademark.


Nipper and “His Master’s Voice”

The icon of the company, the dog Nipper was to become very well known. It represents the picture of a dog listening to an early gramophone painted in England by Francis Barraud. The painting "His Master's Voice" was made in the 1890s with the dog listening to a wind-up Edison-Bell cylinder Phonograph, which was capable of recording as well as playing. Barraud filed an application of copyright of his picture “Dog Looking At and Listening to a Phonograph”, thinking the Edison-Bell Company might find it useful, but Thomas Edison did not buy the painting.


Barraud visited The Gramophone Company  supposedly to borrow a brass horn to replace the original black horn on the painting.  Seeing the painting, Manager, William Barry Owen suggested that if the artist replaced the entire machine with a Berliner Disc gramophone, the Company would buy the painting.


The slogan “His Master’s Voice” along with the painting were sold to The Gramophone Company for 100 pounds sterling. A modified form of the painting became the successful trademark of Victor and HMV records. And when looking close at the trademark on gramophones of the time, one can still see the phantom shadow of the Edison trademark.


The trademark itself was registered by Berliner on July 10, 1900. In 1902, Eldridge Johnson of Victor Talking Machine Company acquired US rights to use it as the Victor trademark, which began appearing on Victor records that year. UK rights to the logo were reserved by Gramophone.

As Francis Barraud stated about this famous painting: “It is difficult to say how the idea came to me beyond that fact that it suddenly occurred to me that to have my dog listening to the Phonograph, with an intelligent and rather puzzled expression, and call it “His Master’s Voice” would make an excellent subject. We had a phonograph and I often noticed how puzzled he was to make out where the voice came from. It certainly was the happiest thought I ever had.” Technically, since Gramophones did not record, the new version of the painting makes no sense, as the dog would not have been able to listen to his master's voice (the master being Barraud's deceased brother).

Emile Berliner’s sons, Herbert and Edgar, held senior management positions in the Berliner Gramo-o-phone of Canada until 1921, when Herbert resigned to concentrate on the Compo Company Ltd, a record-pressing company he had founded three years earlier. Compo grew into a formidable competitor to the Victor and HMV labels of Berliner Gram-o-phone, and in 1935 obtained the license to produce and distribute US Decca Records.


Edgar Berliner continued as chief executive of Berliner Gram-o-phone (later renamed Victor Talking Machine Company of Canada). Ironically, Emile Berliner died in 1929, the same year RCA bought out Victor, and Edgar Berliner resigned the following year.


Today the original building of the Berliner Gram-o-phone company in rue LaCasse hosts The Emile Berliner Museum, documenting the history of the man and his company. The historic Studio Victor is still an active recording studio.


Berliner's other inventions include a new type of loom for mass-production of cloth; an acoustic tile; and an early version of the helicopter.


Emile Berliner died of a heart attack at the age of 78 and is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C., alongside his wife and a son.



  • U.S. Patent 372.786  Gramophone (horizontal recording), original filed May 1887, refiled September 1887, issued November 8, 1887
  • U.S. Patent 382,790  Process of Producing Records of Sound (recorded on a thin wax coating over metal or glass surface, subsequently chemically etched), filed March 1888, issued May 1888
  • U.S. Patent 548,623  Sound Record and Method of Making Same (duplicate copies of flat, zing disks by electroplating), filed March 1893, issued October 1895
  • U.S. Patent 564,586  Gramophone (recorded on underside of flat, transparent disk), filed November 7, 1887, issued July 1896


Including extracts from Wikipedia.

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