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 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 nuts.
  • 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 at right.

    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:

    1. The Manual Sequence, for play on manual players and two-side changers.
    2. The Drop-Automatic Sequence, for changers that do not reverse the stack.
    3. 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.

Pic of forms of changers

HMV Automatic Change Gramophone

HMV Automatic Change Gramophone
(second model - one side version)

Victor Automatic Orthophonic

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 II.

  • 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.

Capehart turner-changer

Capehart turner-changer

Improved Automatic Orthophonic

Improved Automatic Orthophonic

Capehart change cycle

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 changer

RCA slide-automatic throwoff changer

RCA stack repeating 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 the control.)

    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 shelf-slicer changer

V-M slicer (knife-type) changer

Garrard RC-6

Garrard RC-6 push-type changer

Garrard RC-100

Garrard RC-100 two-side changer

Garrard RC-100 flipping

Garrard RC-100 turning the record

Garrard RC-1A

Garrard RC-1A
Three rubber holding shelves

RCA RP-177

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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