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The North American Phonograph Company!

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Cylinder Record History
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Edison Phonograph Works, North American Phonograph Company cylinder, circa 1890-1894, the first link to the history of professional recorded music. Notice channeled rim, that originally received a paper label noting song and performer, and North American branch. Even some early 1889-1894 Columbia cylinders have the paper label and channeled rim, recorded on Edison blanks. A North American Cylinder from the collection of The North American Phonograph Company collections.

Original North American Cylinders, as seen above manufactured from 1889-1894 can be easily identified by the channeled rim, the single spiral core,and all North Americans have the curious pour streak due to the wax coming in the early Edison spiral core moulds, made in 1889 at one point, a cup shaped funnel, as part of the cap on the mold and the wax poured in this to fill the moulds , with one inlet point. North American Edison cylinders were Edison's first commercially available recording medium. Some 1889 records have a string core. These early brown wax records can only be played with early phonographs such as Class Ms, Spring Motors, or other machines that have the automatic  or standard speaker reproducer. The Columbia machines that have a floating type reproducer and ball stylus can also play brown wax without too much damage. If you find a North American cylinder record with the original sound recording, and not moldy you have a real historical treasure. Very few phonographs were sold the first couple of years, and most of the NAPC records were used for coin slot phonographs, and wore out from continuous plays. Time has been hard on them, as moisture also caused them to be moldy. Up to 1895, only two million cylinder phonograph records were made. Many North American Records have announcements such as "Edison Record Number 1058, Beautiful Waltz Song Entitled Daisy Bell, Sung by Mr. Edward M Favor."
Or "My Old Kentucky Home, sung by the Old Kentuckian, Mr. Charles Field, record Taken for the North American Phonograph Company of Chicago." Many have regional announcements, such as New Jersey (New Jersey Phonograph Company.)

Below is  1897-1912  Edison National Phonograph Company Cylinder recording blank for home use. These blanks were the same as used for commercial cylinder recordings from 1896-1901. The above North American and the below National Phonograph Co. brown wax cylinders  are to be played on pre- 1901 Edison phonographs that use Standard Speaker, and Automatic reproducers. These both are direct cut records, gold molding had not come out yet for commercial records, although some masters were said to be according to court  cases.  The 2 minute wax records are 100 grooves per inch, and the grooves are cut with sapphire rod  .039" diameter and played back with a reproducing ball about .036". Many brown wax records are live recordings.  The musicians and artists would sing, or play into many recording funnels, leading to several recording phonographs with blank, brown wax cylinders.  When the blanks became recorded, the process was repeated, until enough copies were made to fill orders.  There is some brown wax records made by tube copies, where a recording phonograph is hooked to a reproducing machine by the use of a hollow tube, like the tube on a speaking tube, the master on one machine and the blank on another and the record copied this way, there is a hollowness to these kinds of copies.  Another kind of  method was the pantograph.  The pantograph had mechanical linkage hooking a recording stylus to a reproducing stylus, and springs, and weights used to keep tension between the two.  A blank cylinder was put on the recording side, while the master cylinder mad of a direct recording on the other side, the pantograph copied the grooves and sound waves onto the blank cylinder. Some of the masters used for copying were either  2 and 1/4" standard size, or 5" cylinders, some were made of wax, and others were reported to be metal.
What I call wax is actually an aluminum, sodium soap with ceresin wax added to cut and keep moisture out of the compound. Edison Blanks made after 1897 have double spiral cores, early North American Blanks have a single spiral and more pronounced left end, while later Edison blanks and Brown wax records, the left end ends more abruptly.

Edison recording blank brown wax cylinder, circa 1900-1905. Photographed from the collections of The North American Phonograph Company. We still make these blanks, in 2018 and you can buy them in the store.

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Columbia brown wax cylinder circa 1898-1901. Sousa's Band playing Sousa's March "The Stars and Stripes Forever March". Record photographed from the collections of The North American Phonograph Company.

Columbia Phonograph Company was the Washington DC franchise of The North American Phonograph Company. It recorded such artists as Patrick Gilmour's Band,The United States Marine Band. It relied on blanks from The Edison Phonograph Works for the first 3 years, and made quite a name for its pedigree artist collection . Later it combined with the American Graphophone Company, and thus made it hard for The Columbia Phonograph Company to obtain blanks. For a period of time Edison quit selling blank cylinders. The Columbia Phonograph Company almost sued the American Graphophone Company because it could not supply good in house recording blanks early ones fogged and decomposed. It was not until 1896 that the American Graphophone Company was able to make a blank of somewhat comparable quality to the Edison blank. The American Graphophone Company had failed from 1894-late 1896 in manufacturing blanks in house. By 1897 The American Graphophone Company made a usable, blank for the Columbia Phonograph Company, of an aluminum stearate formulation, like the Edison blank. The salvation Of American Graphophone Co. from ruin; was the work of the Adolph Melzer & Co. Soap Company of Evansville, Indiana. Melzer answered Thomas Hood MacDonald's advertisement in the American Soap Maker Journal. Because of the work of Melzer, it changed American Graphophone Co, and Columbia records from failure to success, and proliferation of the Columbia brown wax record. This one dates between 1898-1900. By late 1897 Columbia moved the headquarters to Bridgeport Con, with studios in New York. Early ones are announced made in Washington DC, and then New York and Paris, and New York City, some Just Columbia Phonograph Company. All Columbia made standard size blanks and records of the cut brown wax variety have a single spiral core, and pronounced beveled, left ,starting end. Earlier Columbia blanks from late 1896- early 1898, have a lighter color, more dainty spirals (thinner) and are usually a little shorter than 4 1/4" long. The early Columbia blanks and records also are less than 2.160" in diameter, while later Brown wax Columbia's are By mid 1898 The blanks are darker, and were 4 1/4" long and over 2.160" in diameter.

Columbia found out about Edison's Gold Moulded records, and had to enter the game of moulded records. These are said to be made in steam heated molds, and then water cooled through circulation according to Columbia's Patent and court testimony. This was shown by the Edison team of experts to be a lie, (or a misprint on the patent as they said they heated the mold to 300C or 572 F At this temperature the compound easily sets on fire.) Moulded records first appeared about March or April 1902. The Columbia moulded wax, is also softer then Edison Gold Moulded records, and thus wears out quicker, as it is simply brown wax with lamp black added. They are soft and wear out quickly. Columbia's do have loud volume, and clear, recordings when found in good shape. Columbia cylinders become moldy easily and are hard to find without mold.

Columbia Moulded record 1902-1908. Made of brown wax colored with lampblack. Record photographed from the collections of The North American Phonograph Company.

About 1908 Columbia stopped using wax (Aluminum Soap.) for its records.  This is a celluloid indestructible record dating from about 1910 or so. Celluloid is very flammable and made of nitric acid, cotton cellulose, and camphor. Today it is used for guitar parts, and picks, ping pong balls. Celluloid can be identified by a smell of camphor.   These can also be labeled Oxford and sold by Sears.  These celluloid cylinders can be 2 or 4 minute records. Two minute records  have the 1902 date without the addition of 4m.  A 4 minute celluloid indestructible  has the 4m written on it. These cylinders were manufactured However: by the Albany Indestructible Record Company of Albany New York under the patents of Lambert and Petit.

Columbia (Albany Indestructible) celluloid moulded record, circa 1907-1922, the plant in Albany was destroyed by fire in 1922. Photographed from the collections of The North American Phonograph Company.

Edison in 1901 started to produce two minute Gold Moulded cylinders with a 100 tpi feed,  until he had enough to fill a catalog.  In  1902 the Edison  Gold Moulded record was offered.
A gold moulded record, a perfect master is made, and then gold is vaporized by the process of the master put on a mandrel in a glass bell jar. The mandrel turns on centers, like how it turns on the topworks of a phonograph. A disc of iron is located above the mandrel. A magnet is spun by a motor, on a belt that revolves around the outside of the glass jar, causing the master record to revolve. Inside the jar, suspended on hooks, and the wires sealed, is gold leaf. The gold leaf is hooked to an induction coil, similar to a model T ignition coil. A vacuum pump evacuates the bell jar, the mandrel sent revolving and the induction coil tuned on. The gold wants to go from one pole to the other, however the record is in the way, and receives a thin coating of gold, making the record able to conduct electricity. The master is put in holders, in a rubber tank with distilled water,copper sulfate, and sulfuric acid. The master revolves in the tank of the solution hooked to the negative side of the power supply, while the positive is hooked to the copper anodes. After a few days, a copper shell is formed around the master record, and then the end is trimmed on a lathe, until the line of separation is seen. The master mold is put in an ice box, where the master shrinks, and then slowly brought up to make a few master molds, the master molds produce mothers, and then working molds. The working molds were backed up with a brass split, jacket, with felt liner to hold the copper mold. The molds were pre heated and put on top of long brass tubes, in the bottom holes were drilled, and a tank of harder metallic soap, with ingredients added to make it harder than cut brown wax went above the lines of the holes, and. A plunger on a handle brought a charge of wax, that overflowed into the top of the tube and the handle and plunger, and mold removed, and another put in its place. Next the mold was put on a reaming machine that reamed the taper in the bore of the cylinder, and made annular ribs inside, while still in the mold. Next the mold was put in cooling cages and the black, moulded record issued from the mold. The record was put on hollow, tapered cores for a few hours, and pressed out with a hand press to keep the records from warping and distorting. Later on an automatic moulding machine were used, that had a pre heated, round cubby hole heater, then automatically charged the molds with wax (black, hard metallic soap), and starting spinning them at 3,000 rpm down a slanted 3 rubber roller system. When the record reached the end it was cool enough to retain it's shape and then reamed and ribbed on a lathe like before, and cooled and put on cores like before.

An Edison Gold Moulded Record circa 1905-1906. Photographed from the collections of The North American Phonograph Company.

In 1908 Edison increased the playing time of the cylinders.  From 1888-1902 the speed of the records varied so the record could fit the song, anywhere from 90-144rpm.  After 1902 the speed was standardized at 160rpm and 100 tpi.  In 1908 Edison cylinders changed from 100 grooves per inch to 200 grooves per inch. From 1908-1911 Edison  wax Amberols were made, these are a wax cylinder record. And these play with only sapphire stili, on the Edison Reproducers model H,L,N, N56, Model M, K,O. In 1912 Edison invented the Blue Amberol, it is a 4 minute record but made of celluloid with a plaster core.  These will play on all of the above reproducers plus the Diamond A,B,C,D on the Edison Amberola cylinder phonographs.  Edison Blue Amberols were made from 1912-1929.  Wax Amberols will not play with the Diamond A,B,C,D.

This is an Edison "wax" (metallic soap) Amberol, four minute, 200 lines per inch record made from 1908-1912. Photographed from the collections of The North American Phonograph Company.

 Above, an Edison wax Amberol record 1908-1912. Four Minute.

1912-14 era Edison Blue Amberol Celluloid four minute record. From 1914-1929 the end is rounded instead of flat. Photographed from the collections of The North American Phonograph Company.

Edison Blue Amberol Records,  were made of celluloid for the record print, and plaster for backing the thick celluloid shell up. These were made by a steam heated mold, The mold was sealed with lard. Twenty Five pounds of steam pressure were introduced to heat the celluloid and the mold, forcing the celluloid to the print of the mold. One Hundred Pounds of compressed air was introduced to further push the celluloid into the grooves, and to set the celluloid and cool it, and after a few minutes shrank away, hard and with the song inprinted into the celluloid tube.  The celluloid print of the record was put in a plaster filling device,  and baked at a low temperature in an oven, and when dry,  ribs and taper made inside the record on a lathe.  The titles were filled with zinc carbonate paste, the records cleaned to remove dust from the finishing operations, then packaged in boxes.  From 1912-1914 the Blue Amberols were made from direct recorded masters, and after 1914, the masters for the Blue Amberols were dubbed acoustically from Edison Diamond Disc records, and some titles in 1929, when production of music records ceased,  the master cylinders were electrically dubbed from Diamond Disc, and needle type records.  A business form of the Blue Amberol for the Ediphone was produced until 1960.