A History on tape decks


An American mechanical engineer named Oberlin Smith conceives the idea of recording the electrical signals produced by the telephone onto a steel wire. He files a patent caveat but not a formal patent.



Smith, deciding that he will not pursue his idea, "donates" it to the public by publishing his ideas about magnetic recording in the journal Electrical World.


Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen re-discovers the principle of magnetic recording. Over the course of the next few years he produces practical sound recorders for steel wire and tape. He takes patents in Denmark, the United States, and elsewhere and attempts to sell his patent rights to investors. The machine, called the Telegraphone, is described as a device to record telephone messages in the absence of the called party.


Poulsen's first major demonstration of the Telegraphone takes place at the Paris International Exhibition of 1900. The Telegraphone is described in glowing terms by the technical and scientific press as superior to the phonograph and a great advance in physics as well.


Lee DeForest, then working for the Federal Telegraph Company, is asked to develop an amplifier to allow the recording of high-speed radio telegraph messages received on a type of receiver called the tikker. Deforest uses his Audion tube, invented in 1907, to make his first practical electronic amplifier.


Early 1920s - German inventor/entrepreneur Curt Stille modifies the Telegraphone to use electronic amplification and markets the patent rights to the device, a wire recorder, to German and British companies.


Bell Telephone Laboratories initiates a major research effort in magnetic tape recording under the direction of Clarence N. Hickman. By 1931, prototypes of designs are completed for a steel tape telephone answering machine, a central-office message announcer, an endless loop voice-training machine, and a portable, reel-to-reel recorder for general-purpose sound recording. None of these enter production except for the voice trainer, which proves a failure.


Blattner sells an experimental steel tape recorder to the BBC, but goes bankrupt the same year. Meanwhile, the British Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company purchases the U.K. rights to the Stille patents. The BBC and Marconi jointly produce several steel tape recorders and use them in the new BBC Empire short-wave radio service by 1932.


AEG, a large German electrical manufacturer, purchases the patent rights of the independent inventor Fritz Pfleumer, who after 1928 patented a system for recording on paper coated with a magnetisable, powdered steel layer. AEG sets about designing a tape recorder, while it collaborates with the German chemical firm I. G. Farben to develop a suitable tape. I. G. Farben experiments with tape coated with carbonyl iron powder, made under a proprietary process.

Circa 1933-35

Echophon company, another licensee of the Stille patents, develops the Textophon, a dictation machine using steel wire. Echophon is later purchased by ITT and made part of the subsidiary firm C. Lorenz, a manufacturer of telephone equipment. C. Lorenz, with the help of engineer Semi J. Begun, later markets a steel tape recorder that finds wide use in European telephone authorities for telephone recording purposes and by German radio networks for mobile recording.


An improved AEG recorder, dubbed the " Magnetophon ," is demonstrated by recording the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The RRG (the German radio authority) begins to use the Magnetophon for broadcasting, replacing the earlier C. Lorenz recorders.


S. J. Begun of C. Lorenz leaves Germany to start a new career in the United States. In 1939 he takes a job at the Brush Development Company of Cleveland, Ohio.


At the Brush Development Company, S. J. Begun develops steel tape and coated-paper tape recorders. Between 1942 and 1945 the company designs and successfully sells to the military various types of recorders utilizing plated media in the form of tapes, disks, and wire.


Marvin Camras at The Armour Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology invents an improved wire recorder. The Institute succeeds in selling several thousand to the American army and navy, and after the war sells licenses to dozens of American and European manufacturers to make wire recorders.


American and British technical investigators "discover" the Magnetophon in Luxembourg, France, and other places formerly occupied by the Germans. By Spring, these investigators begin gathering information about the production of tape recorders and tape, and the U.S. Department of Commerce publishes the information. The U.S. Alien Property Custodian seizes German patent rights on the technology.

Former serviceman John T. Mullin demonstrates a captured Magnetophon to the Institute of Radio Engineers. Performer Bing Crosby works with Mullin to use the Magnetophon for radio broadcasts on ABC.

Three former Armour Research Foundations employees start Magnecord Corporation in Chicago to make a high quality wire recorder. Plans for the wire recorder are soon dropped, and the group in 1949 introduces a tape recorder, the PT-6. The independent corporate life of Magnecord ends in 1957 when it is purchased by Midwestern Instruments, Inc.


The first Amour Research Foundation- licensed wire recorders appear in the American market, manufactured by Pentron, Pierce Wire Recorder Corporation, and others. Brush Development company introduces its Soundmirror paper tape recorder developed in 1939-40. A Brush licensee, Amplifier Corp. of America, introduces the Magnephone tape recorder.


Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing introduces a line of sound recording tapes, including type #100, a paper based tape, and type #110, a plastic based tape. Type #111, a plastic based tape with an improved oxide, becomes the industry standard.

Mullin demonstrates magnetophones to Bing Crosby Enterprises in June. NBC refuses to record his show and Bing moves to ABC with Philco sponsor in the fall, brings with him Mullin's magnetophones to tape original show and dub to 16-inch transcription disc for broadcast.

Rangertone Inc. of New Jersey introduces a professional tape recorder based on the Magnetophon.


Ampex corporation produces its first professional tape recorder, the Model 200. These are used for Bing Crosby show #27 along with 3M Scotch 111 gamma ferric oxide coated tape.


Sony corporation begins its efforts to design a tape recorder.


The same year that stereo LP's appear on the RCA-Victor label, RCA introduces stereo tape-- in a cartridge format requiring a special player. The system flops almost immediately, though its production continues by a licensee, Bell Sound, until 1964.


Magnecord introduces two-channel tape recorders and begins making stereo recordings of music for demonstration purposes.


Phillips company of the Netherlands introduces the Compact Cassette, a portable tape recorder using a small cartridge.


Ford and Mercury, in conjunction with Motorola and RCA-Victor records, introduce the "Stereo-8" (or "eight track") format tape players as an option on certain luxury models. The medium becomes the first truly successful form of recorded music on tape in the consumer market. 8-track tapes began to be discontinued in the early 1980s.


DuPont and BASF begin offering chromium dioxide recording tapes.


Sony introduces the first digital recorders. These were professional, open reel PCM recorders for the studio.


Sales of recorded audio cassettes exceed LP sales for the first time.