For people of a “certain age,” the little 7-inch vinyl record with the big center hole, also known as the 45, brings back memories of sock hops, juke boxes, and teen idols. It took a while to come on the scene, but when it did, the timing was perfect.
The invention of Edison’s Victrola and the records to play on it made it possible to enjoy music in the home for the first time. For the next 50 years technology made great improvements on the Victrola and the recording quality, but little changed to improve the record itself.
Phonograph records played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm), were large, heavy and very breakable, and they only played for 3 minutes on each side. They were played on large record players or consoles which were usually located in the living room. In many homes, the entire family would sit around listening to bands like Benny Goodman , Glen Miller, and Tommy Dorsey; and soloists like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Patti Paige. Remember, this was before television. Record companies marketed music which would appeal to the entire family. But all that was about to change.
In the late 1940’s, after World War II, 2 new record formats were introduced, both made of vinyl, which was both lighter and had a better sound. The 33 1/3 rpm record was 12” in diameter, had smaller grooves, and could play for 30 minutes per side. It became known as the long playing album or LP because it held numerous songs on each side. It appealed to people who liked certain bands or singers and to people who liked classical music and could listen to an entire movement without changing the record every 3 minutes. The 45 rpm record on the other hand, had a much larger center hole and yet was smaller in diameter, playing 3-5 minutes on each side. Its purpose was to record a single pop song rather that a whole album.
This meant that there were now two markets for music, one for adults who bought mostly LP records and continued to play them on console phonographs and the other for young people, who bought mostly 45’s and played them on inexpensive small record players in their rooms and took them to friend’s houses and to parties.
And thus began the 40-year era of the 45. The prosperity of the 1950’s allowed teenagers to spend money on records by their favorite bands and singers and the onset of rock and roll established a boom in record sales which was also fueled by a large number of war babies reaching their teens. Baby boomers kept the era going. 45’s also became popular in jukeboxes, which had previously used 78’s, because 45’s took up less space and more songs could be fit in the box.
Other music formats have come and gone, such as the 8-track and the cassette, but many people will always cherish the memories associated with the 45 record.
The Canal Museum has examples of the different record formats as well as a variety of record players from over the years. Plan to visit and take a nostalgic trip back to another era.