top of page

Edison Blue Amberol Cylinders

I will admit straight out that my knowledge of inventor and businessman Thomas Alva Edison is weak, limited. For myself, the donation of these "Edison Blue Amberol Cylinders" was a great learning opportunity.

Below are photographs of the two cylinders, both removed from their protective containers.

The immediate question was what are they? I knew they were not for player pianos or music boxes. The cylinders were not Edison's invention, but he improved them; much like McCormick and the binder/reaper.

While not for player pianos, these cylinders were for use in a phonograph-like machine; pre-disc record period. The photograph below of the "Edison Cylinder Phonograph" was from a public source. You can see how the blue cylinder was affixed to be played; much like the early telefax system. (I remember how smelly those were!)

The cylinders were made of celluloid and were advertised as "indestructible". In the early 1900's there was a rapid rate of technological development that grew from the many advances in science, technology and medicine from the prior century. When first introduced, these celluloid cylinders were primarily touted for their durability. The earlier wax-based recordings would shatter if dropped; the celluloids did not.

The Lambert and Albany companies were selling celluloid cylinders as early as 1901 and 1907. Edison introduced his "Blue Amberol" longer-lasting cylinders in 1912. Edison's cylinders played for four minutes, two minutes longer than the earlier versions. Unfortunately, while the cylinders are not as fragile as the wax version, if not properly stored and cared for, shrinkage and deformation can make them difficult to play and reduce sound quality.

If you read the rim of the cylinder you can see the music title(s), Edison's "signature", and the patent number.

This cylinder is band music, "Money Musk Medley" and the "Virginia Reel". (I've tried to get as close to the recording years as possible.)

While the interior seems a bit fuzzy, the actual exterior playing surface is clean and unblemished.

This cylinder may be vocal ("F. Wheeler & Cho." Choir?) and features one song "Never Let the Old Flag Fall". It was a WW I song and easier to locate that the prior two recordings.

It was really fun finding and listening to these early 20th century recordings. It is amazing how technology changes.


University of So Cal, Department of Special Collections


bottom of page