Edison Records (All US/Canadian Edison releases should use this label)
It's common to place the first successful Edison's attempt at reproducing the human voice in August 12, 1877, with the famous (and lost) "Mary Had a Little Lamb" cylinder - though, this date is nowadays quite debated, and it's believed that in fact it happened quite later that year, on December 12, 1887.
Nevertheless, Thomas Edison filed a patent for the invention on December 24, 1877 (issued on February 19, 1878), and then founded the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company on January 24, 1878. The phonographs machines this company sold were intended for office dictation. They worked by playing a groove embossed into a tinfoil cylinder.
Note that "none of the few existing tinfoils recordings were successfully transfered to modern media" until 2008
In 1886, Volta Laboratories created an improved phonograph, using wax instead of tinfoil and engraving, rather than embossing, the cylinders. They termed the new devices "graphophones". Volta Graphophone Company was established in January of 1887 to manufacture the machines. In May of 1886, Volta Laboratories received a patent for the improved device, and Volta Graphophone Company established the American Gramophone Company to distribute musical phonograph cylinders.
Sales of tinfoils phonographs for dictation had not panned out as hoped, and on October 8, 1887, Thomas Edison reorganized the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company into the Edison Phonograph Company. The new company, without permission, used the Volta Laboratories patents to improve upon the earlier Edison phonograph, creating the "new phonograph". This new phonograph model now also used engraved hollow wax cylinders, and was released for sale in May of 1888.
Finally, Jesse H. Lippincott assumed control of the phonograph companies and bought Edison Phonograph Company (for approximately $500,000) to form the North American Phonograph Company on July 14, 1888.
Lippincott focused mainly on professional uses of the phonograph but it was essentially a failure.
In 1890, Edison took back control over the North American Phonograph Company, but finally declared it bankrupt in 1894 (one year after Columbia broke the distribution deal they had), and founded the National Phonograph Company in January 1896, focusing on entertainment. He then announced the creation of new models in 1896, and started making commercial releases of cylinders.
Very few pre-recorded music cylinders were commercialized during that period (the focus being on professional use), not to mention fewer actually survived - though a couple of interesting rarities were restored, including some experimental concert recordings.
See for example:
* Israël in Egypt (1888)
* The Fifth Regiment March (1889)
* The Charge of the Light Brigade (1890)
* or the oldest recording of Edison's voice Speaking to Mr. Blaine (1888)
Note that at that time, no efficient reproduction mechanism was available for these, and performers had to repeat the same tunes take after take (with about 10 to 15 simultaneous recordings possible per-take) to produce a number of cylinders (about 90 per hour, or 24 per hour for singers). 2
Shortly following the introduction of the brown wax cylinder (which would be the first commercially widespread cylinders), the Edison Standard Phonograph was created in 1897 and made public in 1898 - the first phonograph carrying Edison's trademark design.
Both Edison and Columbia also introduced in 1898 special "concert" cylinders, along with a first reproduction process (concert cylinders were pantographic copies of molded 5 inch master recordings), though being way more expensive than standard cylinders, they never took off.
Gold Moulded, Amberol, decline
By 1901, the limitations of the brown wax cylinders were obvious (especially the still very primitive reproduction procedures - mainly re-performing the tunes over and over again).
So was introduced a new mechanical process of reproduction, allowing for much more mass production, known as the gold-moulded process.
This (finally) allowed for the cylinders to sell widely and know their "golden" era (for approximately a decade before the discs supplanted them) including further evolutions (1908, amberol cylinders).
By 1910, the Edison company was reorganized, and following the decline of the cylinders in face of discs, Edison started manufacturing discs in 1913, though the company would still issue cylinders until 1929 and its demise.
The last Edison Records cylinder was produced on July 6, 1929.
Due to the age of this label, all Edison recordings have entered the public domain. This includes many releases which were experimental, demos, or otherwise never actually commercially released. These should have the correct Edison label used in the release event, but with no release date, as there was no official release.
Edison Record release events
Note that if you are entering an Edison Diamond Disc, the matrix number is not the catalogue number. There were 19,343 matrix numbers etched into this series, each with an A, B, and C variation. They indicate which particular recording master and take was used, not the catalogue number. Diamond Disc record numbers are always 5 digits long, beginning with either a 5 or 8. Also note that Diamond Discs should be set as vinyl, not wax cylinder. ("Vinyl" as the material used is incorrect, but the flat record type meant by "vinyl" as type is correct.)