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The History of Vinyl Records

Vinyl records are made of a synthetic plastic called polyvinyl chloride, which is derived from ethylene and chlorine. The material was created as part of the plastics boom in the early 1900s. Before vinyl records, people listened to music at home on shellac records, which were made from the female lac bug. They held just one song on each side and were incredibly fragile. Then in 1948, Columbia Records released the first vinyl record, which was pioneered by Peter Goldmark. It used microgroove plastic to extend a 12-inch record’s playtime to 21 minutes on each side and was designed to spin at a speed of 33 1/3 rpm. The vinyl record revolutionized the music industry and represented a huge leap from inferior shellac records. One year later, RCA Victor released the 45 rpm 7-inch record. The 33 rpm records became known as LPs (“long play”) and were used for albums while the 45 rpm records became known as EPs (“extended play”) and were used for singles or dual tracks. 45s were particularly popular among teenagers and young adults because they could easily be traded and collected. Then in 1979, Sony released the Sony Walkman. Soon after, cassette tapes began outselling vinyl records and during the latter half of the 1980s, vinyl sales plummeted to an unsustainably low point. Then in 2008, vinyl sales began to rise again by an impressive 89%. Since then, vinyl sales have continued to rise; for example, 2018 saw around 9.7 million vinyl record sales. Some experts attribute the resurgence of vinyl records to sound quality or the enjoyment of having a personal collection. Whatever the reason, vinyl records have made an impressive comeback and remain a popular — if somewhat niche — music product even in the midst of today’s digital age.

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