From 1927 to 1993, record changers were sold to the public so the record
listener did not have to change records every few minutes. This was
originally done so a person could listen to a classical work
longer than the 5 1/2 minute limit of playing time for a 12" (30 cm) 78-RPM
record. The record changer allowed the entire symphony to be played, with
very short breaks between movements. Here is a short, but by no means complete,
history of these amazing devices:
THE EARLY YEARS
- The first home record changer was the 1913 Autophone (US), a changer that
held 12 cylinders, each on its own mandrill, in a Ferris-wheel arrangement.
Powered by an electric motor, it continuously played the cylinders in sequence
until turned off. It was a variant of a coin-op Autophone "jukebox"
(the term had not yet been coined). This unit allowed a customer to turn the
Ferris wheel with a knob, crank up the machine, and then play the one record he
chose for a penny. 8-record and 12-record Ferris wheel disc jukeboxes was also
made by Autophone, but these were never sold in a modified form for use as a
home record changer, because the records were held to the turntables by wing
- The first demonstrated automatic record changer for discs was the
Salonola, built in Australia in 1927. But the company went out of business
before the machine was put into production. It was a push-type changer with a
stepped center spindle and a pusher platform at the rim of the record. The
platform was turned to set it for 10" or 12" records. The patent this
company held was listed as being good 1920 to 1939, which might explain why the
push-type changer was not available until 1936.
- The first disc record changer that was actually produced, the Automatic
Change Gramophone, was made in 1927 by the English company His Master's Voice
(HMV). This machine was the assembly-line-type, meaning that each record on
this type of changer went through a series of moves, as though it were on an
assembly line. Records were placed in a stack on a shelf at the left side of
the Automatic Change Gramophone. A vacuum arm picked up the top record from the
stack and placed it on the first turntable. A moving ring centered the record
on the turntable, and the acoustic tone arm played the top side. After the side
finished, the ring flipped the record over onto a second turntable, and the
same arm played the second side. When that ended, a second ring flipped the
record into a bin, and the entire process repeated for the next record. A
control set the changer for record size, so it could play 10" (25 cm) or
12" (30 cm) records, but not intermixed. The records for this were in the
manual sequence. A photo of the second model, a one-side version, appears
Record albums were made in different sequences by different companies, to
be played on the different changers each company made. Often when a company
introduced a different record changer design, it also changed the sequence
of the records in the albums they pressed, so the new albums played correctly
on the new changer. The three sequences used were:
- The Manual Sequence, for play on manual players and two-side changers.
- The Drop-Automatic Sequence, for changers that do not reverse the stack.
- The Slide-Automatic Sequence, for changers that reverse the stack.
Look at RECORD SEQUENCES for more about this.
- The Automatic Orthophonic, the first US disc record changer, was sold
by the Victor Talking Machine Company (US), also in 1927, but slightly later
than the Automatic Change Gramophone. It was a combination of the assembly
line and drop-throwoff designs. The unplayed stack was held vertically by the
center holes of the records, on a hook on the end of a support at the left side
of the turntable. During the change cycle, the changing ring raised, and lifted
the record on the turntable, depositing it into a drawer in the cabinet. Then
the ring rose to the unplayed stack, lifted the next record off of the hook, and
lowered it to the turntable. This changer also had to be adjusted for size. It
could be bought with either an acoustic horn or an electrical pickup (used in
conjunction with an RCA radio), and it used the drop-automatic sequence.
- The 1928 Brunswick Automatic Panatrope had a tall record magazine over
the turntable, with 20 sets of movable shelves (one for each record) holding
records by their edges. My great grandfather had one of these. During the
change cycle, the centering ring flipped the record on the turntable into a
bin. Then a second set of shelves appeared between each record and the one
above it, and the shelves holding the records retracted. This dropped each
record onto the new shelf just below it, with the bottom record sliding down
a chute and onto the turntable. Then the shelves moved back to their initial
positions and the records again dropped down, so each record ended up one
position below where it was before the change cycle. The centering ring
lowered the dropped record onto the turntable, and the arm played it. This
unit could play only 10" records, but Brunswick later provided instructions
on how to use a hacksaw to modify the changer for manual play of 12" records
in addition to automatic play of 10" records. It also had to be periodically
wound up again while it played - it had three cranks! It used the
drop-automatic sequence, and played the records acoustically.
HMV Automatic Change Gramophone
(second model - one side version)
Victor Automatic Orthophonic
Photo courtesy of George Epple
- In 1928, the Capehart Company (US) made their Turnover record
changer. It had a basket, or magazine, where records were stacked on top of
each other. The centering ring flipped the record off of the turntable like
before. But on this changer, it placed it on the top of the stack after
turning it over. Then a pusher pushed the bottom record out of the basket
and onto the turntable, where the centering ring guided it into place. A
feeler arm sensed whether the record was 10" or 12", and the tone
arm played it. Since the record was turned over as it was placed on the stack
after it played, when it came to the turntable again, the other side was
up, so the changer could play every side in the stack.
This was the first record changer that could take intermixed record sizes
in the same stack. It was also the first record changer with a velocity trip
(see page 2 for a discussion on how record changer tripping methods work).
It was first used for jukeboxes and store background music, and released for
home units in 1931 after manual operation was added.
Since many classical records came in a manual sequence where both sides
of each record were played before the next record was used, an alternating
guide (not shown in the drawing) was provided to play this kind of record
album. The guide could be activated so that both sides of the record would
be played before the record stayed on the stack. It alternately took a
record from the top of the stack, and then the bottom of the stack. When it
took the record from the top of the stack, it played the other side of the
record the ring had just put there. So the Capehart worked with either the
manual sequence or the slide-automatic sequence.
An interesting feature of the Capehart was that it never ran out of
records, since the played records were placed back in the stack. Later
models had an automatic shutoff device with a dial that could be set
for the chosen number of sides to be played, or for continuous play. This
changer was made from 1929 to 1951, with an interruption for World War
- Victor also came up with its Improved Automatic Orthophonic
changer that year. This held the records to be played on a shelf, used a combination
of knife blades and a pushing action to separate the bottom record from
the shelf, and a ring to lower the record to the turntable and to later
eject it into a drawer after play. This changer could also intermix 10"
and 12" records, and used the drop-automatic sequence.
Improved Automatic Orthophonic
Capehart change cycle: Placing the record back on the stack (left);
turning the record over (right).
- The Radio Corporation of America (RCA - US) bought the Victor Talking
Machine Company in 1931, as a result of the 1929 stock market crash. At about the
same time, His Master's Voice and English Columbia merged to form EMI
(Electrical and Musical Industries - UK).
In 1931, RCA Victor introduced a new record changer as part of its
"Duo" series. It had both the 78-RPM and 33-RPM speeds (33 for the
failed Victor Long-Playing Record of 1932). This throwoff changer was rough on
records. The user put the stack of records on the turntable, with the first
record to be played on top. He then lowered the pin of the ejector arm into the
center hole of the top record, placed the pickup on the record, and started the
motor. When the record ended, the ejector arm threw the disc off the
turntable and into a bin, and then the pickup arm set on the next record
while the changing arm positioned the pin into its center hole. A
spring-loaded spindle that was pushed down by the changing arm kept the
other records in place during the change cycle.
A typical throwoff changer is pictured here (photo courtesy of Jason) with
the bin being the large dark slot to the left. General Electric (GE - US) and
other makes also used this changer. With the introduction of this changer,
RCA Victor stopped making drop-automatic sequence albums, and started making
them in the slide-automatic sequence, since this changer reversed the stack
as it went through it. A knob (hidden under the pickup arm in the photo) set
the record size.
An interesting feature of all of these changers (except the Capehart)
was that, although they had no automatic shutoff devices built into them,
they stopped playing records once the stack was over. This was simply
because there was no record on the turntable to be played, and so the
needle set down on a little rubber pad next to the rim of the
turntable. Often the lowering of the arm below the surface of the turntable
also turned off the motor. Also, with the exception of the Capehart and the
Improved Automatic Orthophonic, none of the early changers could take
intermixed record sizes. Most of them had to be adjusted for record size, and
a couple of early units could take only 10" records.
RCA also had a repeating changer in 1932. It used a swinging basket
of records held horizontally. During the change cycle, two fingers would lift
the record from the turntable to about 10 inches above it. Then the basket
would pivot over the turntable. The bottom record dropped from the basket
to the turntable while the fingers moved apart and dropped the lifted record into
the basket. Then the basket pivoted away again, the fingers lowered, and the
record played. This changer played the tops of the records continuously
in sequence, but did not turn them over. It played 10" records automatically,
or 12" records manually.
RCA slide-automatic throwoff changer
RCA stack repeating changer
- During most of this period, Garrard (British) was the only
manufacturer making drop changers, using the now familiar method of
suspending the stack over the turntable and dropping the records one by one
down a spindle onto it. Garrard's RC-1 used rubber pads to hold up the
stack while the three shelves turned aside to let the bottom record drop.
It could feel the size automatically, but could not take intermixed record
sizes (if a 12" record dropped, all of the 10" records on top of it
would drop too). It shut off after the last record.
All drop changers with solid spindles must by necessity use the
drop-automatic sequence. But there is an exception (see page 2) that can
also use the manual sequence.
- Other early drop changers were of the shelf-slicer, or knife-type
variety, with a straight spindle and 2 or 3 platforms at the side that held
up the stack. During the change cycle, knives sliced their way between the
records, and the shelves retracted to drop the bottom record. Then the record
dropping parts returned to their previous positions. Garrard's second changer
used knives instead of rubber pads. In the late 1930s, most manufactures also
started making knife-type changers, such as the V-M (US) changer pictured here.
It could intermix 10" and 12" records. Walter Miller created this
company in 1944 as New Products Inc.
- RCA started making a strange series of drop changers that used one
fixed shelf and one or two knives. These never dropped the records flat,
stressing them. They also repeated the last record endlessly until someone
came to interrupt play. Amazingly, they called this the "Magic Brain"
record changer, the first of a series under that name.
"Hey! Where's the brain?" Nothing on these except the trip mechanism
did any thinking.
The introduction of the "Magic Brain" series caused RCA Victor to start
making albums in the drop-automatic (DM) sequence again. But RCA also produced
the same records in both the slide-automatic sequence (AM) and manual sequence
(M), so for a few years the record customer could buy the album tailored to
the record changer or manual player he owned.
- In 1936, Garrard started making its famous "pusher platform", with
the RC-5, RC-6, and RC-8. The entire shelf nodded toward the spindle to drop a record.
It could not intermix record sizes, because the shelf had to be repositioned to
push against the edge of the bottom record.
- In 1939, Garrard briefly made a 2-side changer of the drop-throwoff variety.
The dropping device was a variant on the magazine-type changer diagrammed above, but
it held each record by the center hole, instead of the rim. Each record was dropped
to the turntable, and its top side was played. Then the ejector arm moved it to the
side, turned it over, and placed it back on the turntable. After the other side was
played, the ejector arm moved the record to the side and dropped it in the bin (or
on the table or rug, in the case of a portable). Note the curved cutout in the plinth
and the circular hole in the cabinet to provide space for turning the record over.
It could take 10" and 12" records intermixed.
With its one-side mode, it could use the drop-automatic sequence. In two-side mode,
it used the manual sequence. But, before they could be played again, the records
had to be reordered after play with the manual sequence. The changer reversed the
stack in two-side mode, but not in one-side mode. (With a few design changes, this
could have been made to handle the manual sequence without reversing the stack, and
could have also handled the slide-automatic sequence using another selection added to
This was one of the few drop changers where the record spindle had a gap in it,
with a centering device at the turntable to make sure the record was centered. This
changer can be seen in action in an amusing comedy sequence in the 1948 movie
"Unfaithfully Yours". But the owner didn't know how to use it in that
film. (The instructions said it was "so simple, it operates itself."
It did just that, but always at the wrong time.)
Unfortunately, all but a handful of RC-100s were destroyed, when a German U-boat
torpedoed a ship carrying most of the units produced to the United States. Wartime
production restrictions then kept Garrard from making any more (they made
time fuses for bombs dropped from planes until the war ended).
I finally got a photo of one, seen at right (photo courtesy of Bert). Someone
else anonymously sent me a photo of an RC-100 turning over the record, also at
right. I wonder if it was taken before or after the ship was torpedoed.
V-M slicer (knife-type) changer
Garrard RC-6 push-type changer
Garrard RC-100 two-side changer
Garrard RC-100 turning the record
Three rubber holding shelves
RCA RP-177 "Magic Brain"
One fixed shelf, one knife shelf
Another factor entered into the manufacture of home record changers that
jukebox manufacturers didn't have to worry about: What if someone grabbed the
arm while the changer mechanism was trying to move it? This caused damage to
the arm control parts of many record changers in the 1930s, resulting in
expensive repairs. And unfortunately, while it was difficult enough to teach
adults not to grab the arm, it was almost impossible to teach it to children.
Therefore, the record changer had to be made immune to damage from people
grabbing the arm, or turning the control knob, during the change cycle.
The result was the safety drive (a spring or a friction clutch) that allowed
the rest of the change cycle to continue while the pickup arm was held or a
control knob was turned. Almost all record changers made after 1940 had
safety drives on parts accessible to the user. But some manufacturers were
slow to learn, including Garrard and RCA. Both companies made some models of
record changers without safety drives on their pickup arms until 1967.
Advance to Part 2 of RECORD CHANGERS - War Years and Battle of the Speeds
Advance to Part 3 of RECORD CHANGERS - Ingenuity Years
Advance to Part 4 of RECORD CHANGERS - Decline and Fall of Record Changers
Special Record Changer Lists and Links
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