Historical Facts on EMI

The first-ever flat discs, invented by Emile Berliner, were 5" in diameter made from a toy machine and formed from celluloid rubber.

Shellac, the compound used to make most 78rpm discs was a resin derived from the Lac beetle.

For years it was thought that a barmaid from Rules Restaurant in Covent Garden was the first artist to be recorded by The Gramophone Company. Recent research has disproved this, the first recordings having been made by musicians from the orchestra Hotel Cecil, first London base of Gramophone Company founder William Barry Owen.

Until recording engineer Fred Gaisberg came across the spring motor invention by Eldridge Johnson, flat disc machines were hand cranked. It needed a very steady hand to prevent a wobbly sound!

The first commercially available 78rpm discs were 7" diameter, playing for a maximum of two minutes.

The record business paid well in the early days. At the time when a normal skilled mechanical engineer could earn £100 a month, The Gramophone Company's chief engineer Fred Gaisberg was earning £1500.

Albert Chevalier goes into the history books as the first Gramophone Company artist to secure a royalty - One shilling (5p) on every dozen records sold.

Enrico Caruso, one of the first major singing stars to be captured on record, was by 1914 already earning £20,000 a year from his recordings.

Dame Nellie Melba was such an important signing that not only did she command her own (mauve) label, but the 12" discs she made sold for one guinea (£1.05) from which she received five shillings (25p) as a royalty.

At the same time as Nellie Melba's records were selling for £1.05, the cheaper Zonophone label was offering less well-known artists at 12.5p.

In 1904 The Gramophone Company sold over 600,000 records. By 1914 this had risen to 4 million.

During the First World War, in addition to records, The Gramophone Company made munitions for the Government to the tune of £6 million.

The first factory, built at Hayes before the First World War, cost £120,000.

By 1919, The Gramophone Company was self-sufficient, recording artists and making records, gramophones and needles at its Hayes factories. That year it sold 6 million records and 60,000 gramophones in Britain and overseas.

The Gramophone Company's first million-selling disc was "0 For the Wings Of A Dove" by Master Ernest Lough. It sold 650,000 in the UK alone in its first six months, and was the first recording made by the company's new mobile van.

Though discs were sold in Britain from 1897, it was not until 1925 that double sided versions became available, before then one side was always left blank.

In the Post-World War 1 jazz age, band leader Jack Hylton was one of HMV's biggest selling artists, achieving over 7 million units between 1923 and 1933. On Columbia, singers Layton and Johnstone achieved similar sales in the period 1924-1934.

In 1929 The Gramophone Company opened its first overseas factory in Germany, making 2 million records and 35000 gramophones in its first year.

In 1929 over 5 million records were manufactured at the Hayes factory.

The Gramophone Company's profits topped the £1 million mark for the first time in 1928.

In 1929, The Columbia Gramophone Company bought Pathe Freres in France. Pathe actually began making cylinder discs in 1896, making our French company one year older than EMI UK.

When Columbia began to make flat discs and machines to replace cylinders, they called the machine The Grafonola - which today sounds more like a wholesome biscuit!

The first complete recording of Verdi's opera Aida was made in 1914, covering 17 records and selling for £3 including the libretto.

When Columbia bought The Carl Lindstrom company in Germany in the 1920's, it acquired two labels Odeon and Parlophone, one of which was to become popular forty years later for a quite different reason.

After The Gramophone Company and The Columbia Graphophone Company merged in 1931 to become Electric and Musical Industries, they accumulated losses between 1931 and 1934 amounted to more than £1 million.

In 1929 combined sales of The Gramophone Company and The Columbia

Graphophone Company were more than 30 million units. By 1931, despite price cuts, this total had fallen to 20 million for the new EMI and by 1937 was down to just 5 million.

Because of the Depression, by the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, only EMI and Decca were left as manufacturers of gramophone records in the UK.

Before the advent of the BBC radio in 1926, politicians requested used gramophone records as the means of making party political broadcasts.

In 1923 King George V and Queen Mary recorded a Christmas message for release by The Gramophone Company - three years before the advent of radio.

EMI's Central Research Laboratories have been at the heart of the company's technical achievements for sixty years. CRL founder Sir Isaac Shoenberg will be best remembered for the development of the 405 lines television transmission, used by the BBC from 1936 until 625 lines and colour took over in the Sixties.

EMI has not always been at the forefront of technological advance. In America, Columbia Records (now Sony) introduces the 33.3rpm long playing disc as far back as 1948. Then Chairman Sir Ernest Fisk said in 1950: "It is in the public interest for the gramophone industry to continue to develop on the sound principle of a common turntable speed" (i.e 78rpm only). By the time the company released its first 45 33rpm discs, its main rival, Decca had already established the market.

Between 1956 and 1958 the sales of 78rpm discs fell from 14.3 million to 6.7 million, while 45 rpm sales (singles and extended plays) rose from 1.3 million to 7 million.

EMI's move into American label licenses came in 1946 with MGM, a label now owned by Polygram. The company's long term licence with RCA Victor finally ended in 1957 but not before HMV had been able to release the first records by an up-and-coming young man from Memphis, Elvis Aaron Presley.

In April 1942 Buddy DeSylva, Johnny Mercer and Glen Wallichs form Liberty Records. Two months later they discover another company of the same name and are forced to change to Capitol Records.

The Capitol Tower - the world's first circular office building opens. Frank Sinatra conducts the first session in Capitol's state-of-the-art recording studio.

In the financial year 1961-62 EMI's turnover was £82.5 million and its profit £7.4 million. The sales of gramophone records, within 1945-6 had represented just 2% of the company's turnover, exceeded 50%.

When John Christie opened the now legendary Glyndebourne Opera House in 1934, EMI recorded three complete operas there - forging a strong link that remains to this day.

In 1945 EMI's total classical recording budget was £27,000. By 1958 this figure had increased to over £1 million and 355 different classical LP's were recorded and released. Such was the impact of the long-playing disc. In 1961, less than ten years after the company released its first LP, it boasted a classical recording catalogue of 2000 titles.

Dance band, jazz and swing music and comedy, by artists such as AL Bowlly, Leslie Hutchinson and Max Miller, could be bought on HMV's magenta label from just 7.5p each in 1935.

Ray Noble and His Mayfair Orchestra sold an extraordinary 1.5 million discs between 1929 and 1933 despite the deep economic depression of the time.

In 1935 Gracie Fields insisted on recording the company's cut-price Regal-Zonophone label, because, as the then Chairman explained, to give her public "which is so largely provincial and poor an opportunity to buy her records."

Britain's first ever platinum disc for singles sales was presented to orchestra leader Victor Silvester in 1960 to mark world sales of his 45 and 78rpm discs in excess of 30 million units. He was also presented with the first Silver Disc to make 250,000 album sales.

In 1957, thanks largely to its American Licences, EMI achieved 22 Top Ten chart records - the charts having been introduced by the New Musical Express paper in 1952 - selling a total of nearly 8 million copies.

Legendary TV Producer Jack Good is the man who may lay claim to launching the career of Cliff Richard. Not only did he give Cliff his first-ever TV appearance on Oh Boy - but he also persuaded EMI to make "Move It" the A-side of Cliff's first single, rather than the preferred "Teenage Crush."

In 1962 EMI's sales were £82.5 million with profit before tax £4.4 million.

In 1970 EMI's sales were £225 million with profit before tax £21 million.

In 1962 the price of a 45rpm single was 6s6d (33p) and a classical album was £1.19s 6d (£1.99). The same year, Music For Pleasure albums retailed at just 12s 6d (62p).

By 1991 EMI's world sales exceeded £1 billion for the first time, with operating profit of £109 million.

In 1914 a man would have had to work for 60 hours in order to afford to buy a recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. By 1939 a man would have to work 24 hours to buy the same recording. By 1960 an LP of the work would cost the average man four hours work, and in 1990 a skilled worker would take 150 minutes to earn enough for a full-priced CD of the same work.

In 1994 EMI's world sales exceeded £1.7 billion, with operating profit of nearly £25 million.

In 1995 EMI's world sales were approaching £2.2 billion, with operating profit of nearly £300 million.

In 1996 EMI's world sales were £2.7 billion with operating profit of £365 million.

The EMI Archive

EMI is the proud owner of one of the biggest and most valuable archives in the world, recently re-housed in a state-of-the-art 37,000 square foot development at Hayes. This new facility has brought together all the different elements of the Company's 100 year history for the very first time, including the museum, record and paper archive, master tape and video tape libraries and the Company's extensive collection of photographs.

The decision to start an archive was taken at the company's inception in 1897. All correspondence was preserved and filed neatly in black boxes; a copy of almost every disc issued, was placed in a record library which, to date, boasts a collection of almost half a million items. In addition, HMV gramophones, radios, numerous models from the household appliances range and other unique pieces were preserved to mark the Company's heritage.

The definition of an Archivist is "to collect, store and make available". The attention to detail exemplified by EMI continues to yield fruit and bear wonderful surprises. A few years ago EMI's Chief Archivist Ruth Edge received a phone call from a member of the public, alerting her to the fact that the silver spade used by the tenor Edward Lloyd to cut the first sod for the Hayes factory in 1907, was coming up for auction. Unable to attend the sale the following day, Ruth phoned the auction house and instructed them to bid on her behalf stipulating that EMI must have it, "whatever the cost".

This unique item was expected to go under the hammer for around £800, but unbeknown to EMI, a dealer in gramophone ephemera had spotted its significance and was similarly determined. At £2,000 the auctioneer panicked, and ceased bidding on EMI's behalf with disastrous consequences.

There is, however, a happy ending to the story. The spade's new owner contacted Ruth and eventually agreed to sell it to EMI for £5,000. The cost of the spade in 1907 was just over £7, so he managed to make a tidy profit.

In October 1995 the spade took centre stage at a similar ceremony when tenor Roberto Alagna cut the first sod to mark the building of the new EMI Archive.

Who said history never repeats itself?

Back m100 home Next