In 1877, Thomas Alva Edison demonstrated his phonograph, a machine capable of both recording and reproducing sound. His first demonstrations used tinfoil wrapped round a metal cylinder - but this was too crude to be practical and he soon replaced it with a far more versatile and durable hollow wax cylinder.
The phonograph dominated the market for the next 20 years but during this period the gramophone became established as a far superior and more sophisticated instrument, and the gramophone record - a flat, black disc composed of shellac and finely pulverised slate (a great improvement on its predecessor!), easily overtook the wax cylinder. The disc was rotated on the gramophone's turntable at 78 rpm - until the clockwork ran down!
Portable models appeared on the scene in the 'early days'. The Museum owns a Decca portable, marketed in 1915 as "a veritable asset to the morale of the Troops".
By the late 1920s, horn gramophones had pride of place in many homes. The horn was not essential; in a lot of cases - particularly with portables like the 1932 Cliftophone - you simply opened a panel at the front to increase the volume!
Decades later, in the 'swinging 60s', radio and television programmes like Top of the Pops and Juke Box Jury influenced the market and heralded in the golden age of vinyl. Shellac had been replaced by vinyl, and small, inexpensive recordings of the latest pop artists swept the market, making it possible for young people to listen to their favourite groups and bands on the inexpensive record players available at the time.
In the 1920s, the development and popularity of domestic radio led to the need for high quality microphones and loudspeakers.
The Museum's microphone collection includes models built into existing cases like mantle clocks, car sidelights and candlestick telephones - but is dominated by the massive 12kg Round-Sykes 'Magnetophone' - the first purpose-built microphone to be commissioned by the BBC and used from 1923 until 1927:- A coil of wire was attached to the magnet by cotton-wool smeared in Vaseline! This frequently fell off in the warm studio, thereby causing "a technical hitch ..." The huge microphone was mounted on a wooden trolley and could be trundled around the studio.
Loudspeakers of the period took on a myriad of shapes and styles - from the conventional horn to fretwork designs of birds, tapestry and pleated paper - each one, an art form to be displayed and cherished with pride.
Half a century ago, reel-to-reel tape recorders were the latest "must haves" followed by CDs, DVDs and culminating in the ground-breaking technological developments of the 21st century.
The road from Edison's tin-foil cylinder to today's achievements is an astonishing path of inventions and innovations, signposting an exciting, unprecedented future.