Patent Search for Materials, Equipment, and
Methods Relating to the Composition, Manufacture, and
Playback of Instantaneous Discs, 1927 - 1942

 

INTRODUCTION

Between the soaring popularity of recorded sound on the disc of the early twentieth century and the high-fidelity recording capabilities of magnetic tape achieved after World War II lies the brief but enthusiastic niche of the instantaneous disc. Developed in the 1930s and used well into the late 1940s and 1950s as an inexpensive and accessible method of recording, the instantaneous disc was different from commercially distributed records. The instantaneous disc – sometimes called lacquers, acetates (quite erroneously, according to Peter Copeland ), transcription discs, old time radio (OTR) recordings, Insta-discs, dubs, or reference recordings – was a “compromise of ease of engraving and playback life,” composed of softer materials than mass produced phonographs and thus more fragile and susceptible to the hazards of playback. Created using a special turntable either acoustically or magnetically, instantaneous discs created immediately available recordings that were unique, consumer-initiated sonic time capsules of a period in which media innovations were broadening and linking the world in a way quite similar to present day computer technology and the internet.

Peter Copeland, Conservation Manager and sound engineer at the British Library Sound Archive, credits the invention of the instantaneous disc to Cecil Watts, who in 1934 discovered that discs with a surface coating of cellulose nitrate (or nitrocellulose) were soft enough to allow grooves to be cut yet sturdy enough to allow a few playbacks on common record players. Although it is arguable that instantaneous disc recordings were available throughout the advancing material history of the sound recording disc, it seems that the specific manufacture of instantaneous discs and the devices on which to record these discs for wide-spread use begins in 1934 with the cellulose nitrate laminate disc. Materials in use prior to cellulose nitrate include laminated discs coated with soft wax, ethyl cellulose, and cellulose acetate, as well as discs solely composed of soft metals such as aluminum or zinc. Cellulose nitrate, while certainly not a champion of stability, is however much more durable and has better playback sound quality than its soft wax or ethyl cellulose counterparts, which may be part of the reason that instantaneous discs are widely understood to be composed of only that material. Also, very few aluminum or other soft metal discs are still in existence; Elizabeth McLeod, documentarian of early radio, notes that during the scrap drives of World War II, citizens were urged to turn in as much aluminum as they could for recycling. Thousands of unique recordings were lost when “patriotic performers could see no reason to hold onto ten years of old broadcasts when there was a war to be won.”

 


METHODOLOGY

U.S. Patent information from 1790 to present is available online. While more recent patents (1976 - present) are available as searchable text fields (author, title, abstract, date, etc.) with separated image files for drawings and specs, earlier patents (1790 - 1975) are available only as images, which renders them unsearchable by anything but patent number and current U.S. classification. To overcome this obstacle, several search terms that describe the materials, equipment, and methods relating to the composition, manufacture, and playback of instantaneous discs were generated: "cellulose nitrate" and its alternate "nitro-cellulose," "instantaneous," "phonograph," and "record" were the main search terms, while other headings searched include "lacquers," "Watts, Cecil," "Presto Recording Company," and several key people related to the beginning of Presto Recording Company, the first manufacturer of instantaneous discs. These search terms were then looked up in the U.S. Patent Indexes, published annually and currently held in the stacks collection of the UT Engineering Library. For the scope of this project, the early history of patents related to instantaneous discs was examined, ranging from U.S. Patent Indexes 1930 - 1942. The Patent Indexes do not necessarily include patents filed from that year; most often, patents filed from up to three or four years earlier are listed in any given year index -- for instance, Cecil Watts filed his original patent application for a Telegravure Apparatus on December 31, 1930, and this patent is listed in the 1933 index as being accepted on January 24.

An alternative method of searching patents is the utilization of the horribly confusing and unnavigable current U.S. Classification system. By selecting a search term ("phonograph," for instance), one can find categories and sub-categories related to the term. In a stroke of luck, the first term related to phonograph is "phonograph blank," and this classification was further subdivided into categories describing either the method of recording (optical, magnetic) or the components of the phonograph blank (metals such as aluminum, tellurium, and chromium). The drawback to this process is that the webpages for the classification system are quite lengthy -- generally more than 2 MB in size for pages containing predominately text -- and not only take a while to download but are difficult to navigate and search. One avenue that was completely explored was the 64.2 -- CIRCULAR SHEET OR CIRCULAR BLANK / Recording medium or carrier classification which returned nearly patents related to instantaneous discs. Listed in the table below, the online results returned the patent number (which linked to image files of the patent records) and the related classifications.

RESULTS

My research on patents did not yield what I had hoped for -- locating the patents of the inventor of instantaneous discs, as credited by Peter Copeland of the British Library: Cecil Watts. Nor was I able to find patents relating to Presto Recording Company -- credited as the first mass-producer of instantaneous discs in the United States. When searching for patents related to Presto, I also searched under the names of employees of the company likely to have been involved in the patent filing process, all to no avail.

A second obstacle to the research was the shear size of information that I located -- both in terms of amount of information to read and digest as well as the mere sizes of the image files that one must download if any hopes of conducting patent research pre-1975 are to be entertained. Due to these problems, I was able to only, over the course of this semester, generate a database of patents; unfortunately, I was not able to do much in the way of comparison and analysis of the patents nor provide a historical and cultural context for the patents found.

 

FUTURE PLANS

In the continued effort to become the leading world expert on instantaneous discs, I will need to thoroughly digest the patent research I've begun this semester as well as to explore the years beyond 1942 -- aiming, roughly, towards the introduction of magnetic audio tape in the United States and market acceptance of that medium which occurred by the mid 1950s, at the latest.

Since obviously every method or recipe patented does not become widely available on the market, I need to establish a way to distinguish between instantaneous patents that never saw the light of day and those that were used by the major corporations such as Wilcox Gay, Duodisc, Victor, Presto, Howard, and others. I also need to determine a way to relate the individuals who file patents (generally, attorneys) to these major corporations who manufacture the discs.

To Search the U.S. Patent Index by patent number: http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/srchnum.htm

PHONOGRAPH BLANKS -- CLASSIFICATION SEARCH

*all links to patent images not yet active - Search by Patent Number here

PATENT # RELATED CLASSIFICATIONS NOTES
3,901,994 428/163 204/168 369/283 427/79 427/255.6 427/488 427/535 428/64.2 428/463 428/694TF metallic video disc, 1975
3,833,408 369/276 369/283 369/288 428/64.2 428/447 508/208  
3,788,162 74/572 156/177 156/296 156/297 428/64.2  
3,787,275 428/64.2 156/219 264/107 264/219 264/293 428/141 428/156 428/161 428/207 428/339  
3,787,274 428/64.2 216/48 264/107 428/141 428/156 428/161 428/207 428/339  
3,454,540 106/37 260/998.16 260/DIG16 369/72 369/288 428/64.2 524/401 524/910  
 3,332,690  369/274 206/.83 428/64.2 428/66.6  
 3,250,537  369/277 369/286 369/287 369/288 428/64.2 428/181 428/220 428/908 528/307 528/308  
 3,212,075  360/135 346/121 369/218 428/64.2  
3,140,095 369/274 206/15 369/286 369/288 369/291 428/64.2 428/138  
3,130,110 360/135 346/135.1 428/64.2 428/86  
2,997,451 428/64.2 106/37 106/241 252/511 260/998.16 361/212 369/276 369/286 369/288 524/496  
2,734,748 369/282 428/43 428/64.2 428/66.6  
2,680,080 428/64.2 427/384 428/523 428/704  
2,670,308 428/64.2 369/288 523/174 524/577  
2,619,440 428/64.2 106/37 106/169.48 106/169.53 260/998.16 523/174  
2,587,427 369/283 156/216 264/107 428/64.2 428/126  
2,364,545 428/91 264/257 369/286 369/288 428/64.2 428/908 442/108  
2,351,600 428/64.2 428/217 428/334 428/535 428/536  
2,272,157 428/64.2 369/286 369/288  
2,250,140 428/64.2 369/286 369/288  
2,184,524 428/64.2 369/286 369/288  
2,148,225 428/64.2 369/286 428/212  
2,094,280 369/286 106/37 428/64.2 428/182  
2,038,563 428/64.2 369/286 369/288  
2,030,568 428/64.2 369/286 369/288 428/167 428/536  
2,018,200 369/85 101/492 346/77R 428/64.2  
2,012,134 428/64.2 205/149 205/202 369/283 369/288  
1,954,026 428/64.2 369/286 369/288  
1,946,596 369/286 369/288 428/64.2 601/160  
1,930,502 369/170 369/282 369/286 428/64  
1,926,130 428/64.2 369/286  
1,919,920 428/64.2 369/286 369/288  
1,614,413 428/335 264/107 264/258 428/64.2 428/322.2  
1,480,980 369/283 428/64.2 428/131 428/156  
1,455,129 428/64.2 264/106 369/286 369/288  
1,416,342 369/286 264/107 264/257 264/271.1 369/288 427/327 428/64.2 428/469  
1,398,148 428/64.2 369/286  
1,370,719 428/64.2 264/107 369/286 369/288  
1,175,728 428/64.2 156/220 156/308.2 156/309.3 427/371 428/464 428/498 428/535 428/536  
1,146,387 428/64.2 369/286 369/287 369/288 369/291 428/526  
1,111,999 428/64.2 138/146 369/288 428/332  
909,461 428/64.2 369/286  
862,407 369/286 369/288 428/64.2 428/534  
819,058 428/64.2 369/286  
809,263 369/286 106/37 106/241 369/288 428/64.2  
 717,311  428/44 369/280 428/64.2  
 505,910  428/64.2 369/286 369/288  
 385,887  428/64.2 369/286 369/288  

 

CELLULOSE NITRATE - INDEX SEARCH

*all links to patent images not yet active - Search by Patent Number here

PATENT # TITLE AUTHOR DATE NOTES
1,925,162 cellulose for nitration, preparing W.C. Wilson 1933 - Sept 5  
1,917,162 cellulose nitrate and acetate, preparing homogenous mixtures of C.J. Staud and C. E. Waring 1933 - July 11  
 1,917,399 cellulose nitrate coating compositions G.R. Ensminger 1933- Dec 19  
 1,915,613  cell. n. comp and solvent mixture therefore m.h. Morrison and e.h. nollau  1933 - June 20  
 1,900,873  cellulose nitrate film and similar products, making h.e. van derhoef    
 1,987,077 cellulose nitrate, decolorizing  m.j. reid  1935 - Jan 8  
 1,991, 125 cellulose nitrate multiacylate compounds and making the same  c.j. straud and j.t. fuess  1935 - Feb 12  
 1,997,766  cellulose nitrate, preparing p.b. cochran, m.v. hitt, and l.v. taylor  1935 - aprl 16  
 1,995,117  cellulose nitrate, treating  r.k. eskew  1935 - mar 19  
 2,007,789  cellulose nitro-acetates, prep of h.l. barthelemy, ee. Huffman, and w.b. sellars  1935 - july 9  
 2,077,455  cellulose nitrate, stabilization of  l.s. baker  1935 - apr 20  
 2,106,188  
cellulose nitrate and liq nitraic esters and the products thereof, acceleration of gelatinaization of
 jt power and k.r. brown  1937 - Jan 25  
 2,102,187      1937  
 2,092,229  lacquer, nitrocellulose  k. thinius  1937 - sept 7  
 2,219,644  cellulose, nitrating  l.s. baker and r.j. quaid  1940 - oct 29  

NITROCELLULOSE - INDEX SEARCH

*all links to patent images not yet active - Search by Patent Number here

PATENT # TITL AUTHOR DATE NOTES
1,901,561 nitrocellulose and the prodyct thereof, dehydrating a. langmeier 1933 - may 14  
1,923,714 nitrocellulose coating composition containing low boiling solvent vehicles c. ellis 1933 - aug 22  
1,914,302 nitrocellulose manufacture m.o. schur 1933 - june 13  
1,913,416 nitrocellulose, production of m.o. schur 1933 -june 13  
1,893,677 nitrocellulose, purification of
f. olsen
1933 - jan 10  
2,029,547 nitrocellulose coatin composition containing blow china-wood oil e.a. daniels and l.a. Donovan

1936 - oct 6

 

 
2,059,326
nitro cellulose, manufacture of
m.o. schur R.K. Eskew. 1936 -  
2,102,697
nitrocellulose and to the product thereof, dehydration of
w.e. gloor 1937 - dec 21  
2,103,593 nitrocellulose, apparatus for stabilizing
m.g. Milliken 1937 - dec 28  
2,101,066 nitrocellulose emulsion
c.b. hollabaugh 1937 - dec 7  
2,099,501 nitrocellulose emulsions and producing
j.k. speicher 1937 -  
2,103,647 nitrocellulose, prepartion of
m.o. schur 1937 -  
2,070,248 nitrocellulose product.
r. weingarnd and A. muchlinski 1937 -  
2,103,592 nitrocellulose stabilization of. m.g. Milliken 1937 - dec 28  
2,105,155 nitrocellulose emulsions
m.c. moore 1938 - jan 11  
2,118,275 nitrocellulose, preparing
r. h. Talbot 1939 - may 24  
2,114,491 nitrocellulose soluntions, producing
c.b. hollabaugh 1939  
2,123,611 nitrocelluloses, manufacturing of a. noll 1939 - july 12  
2,188,322
nitrocellulose composition of reduced inflammability
h.j. tattersall 1940 - jan 30  
2,198,173
nitrocellulose solution
l.p. moore and r.o. roblin 1941 - apr 23  
2,263,526
nitrocellulose polyvinyl-formal composition
k. thinius 1941 - nov 18  
 2,291,169
nitrocellulose production
 g.e. moos  1942 - july 28  

 

INSTANTANEOUS - INDEX SEARCH

(no 1935, 1936, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942)
1933

PATENT # TITLE AUTHOR DATE NOTES
1,939,067  instantaneous pressure recorde  r j.w.legg  1933 - dec 12 does not appear to be related to the recording of sound

 

PHONOGRAPH - INDEX SEARCH

*all links to patent images not yet active - Search by Patent Number here

phonograph – key name: L. Z. La Forest
no 1934, 1938, 1939 of interest

PATENT # TITLE AUTHOR DATE NOTES
 1,939,072 phonograph recording machine.
 r. f. mallina. 1933 - dec 12  
 1,895,178  phonograph records, arrangement for producing.
 r. h. townsend 1933 - jan 24  
 1,915,384  phonograph records, making .
 j. reilly and h.t. beans 1933 - june 27  
 1,918,972  phonograph reproducer.  j.h. king  1933 - july 18  
 1,986,536 Phonograph records, Apparatus for metallically coating.
 A.G. Russell. 1935 - jan 1  
 2.029.012 Phonograph record and makng the same.

 H.T. Beans, G.H. Walden, Jr. and L.P. Hammett. 1936 -  coating compositions
 2,028,197  Phonographic recorder.
 O.M. Dunning. 1936 - jan 21  
 2,102,316
phonograph recording control system
 e.c. guedon  1937 - dec 14  
 2,098,216 phonograph robot
 l.j. Andres  1937  ????
 2,079,972 phonographic disks, apparatus for manufacturing.  a.b. st. hilaire  1937 - may 11  
 2,217,170  phonograph record  j.h. hunter  1940 - oct 8  
2,216,970  phonograph record blank  w.t. walker  1940  

2,209,834
2,209,836
2,209,835

 phonograph record resurfacing machine  (lz la forest)    seem to be same patent with small design modifications
2,209,833
phonograph record shaving machine
r.m. somers 1940  
2,191,729 phonograph structure h.t. Roberts 1940  
2,254,519
phonograph recording device
j.r. fouch
1941 - sept 2
 
2,241,300 phonograph records, manufacture of. j.h. hunter 1941  
2,283,286 phonograph blanks, making F. L. porth 1942 - may 19  
2,295,938 phonograph disks, making r.s. dech 1942 - sept 15  

 

RECORD - INDEX SEARCH

*all links to patent images not yet active - Search by Patent Number here

PATENT # TITLE AUTHOR DATE NOTES
 1,928,198  record blank  s.b. Freiberg  1933 - aug 22  
 1,991,949  record resurfacing machine, phonographic  l.z. la forest  1935 - feb 19  
 1,999,570  " "  " "  1935 - apr 30  
2,008,092  records with a metallic base for talking machines, Production of Sound.  W. Biber  1935  
2,031,605
record and making and using the same.
 J.E. Jenkins and S.E.Adair  1936 - feb 25  
2,030,568  record, laminated  b.c. bren  1936 - feb 11  
2,042,631  
record, reinforced phonograph
 h reffelt and c. cagnon 1936  
 2,085,741  record, aluminum sound  j.d. Edwards 1937 - july 6  
 2,096,019  
record apparatus for reproducing a
 s.e. adair and j. e. Jenkins 1937 - oct 19  
 2,083,295  record assembly, composite.  deW I Conklin 1937 -  
 2,089,328  
record assembly, unitary manifold
 h.w. bass 1937 -  
 2,096,020 record, making a  
s.e. adair and j.e. Jenkins
1937 - oct 19  
 2,089,308  record material for testing machine.  j.l. Sullivan 1937 -  
 2,095,332  
record shaving machine.
 c. huenlich 1937 - oct 12  
 2,067,502 records, duplicating phonograph
 c.e. pollard and a.g. Russell 1937 - jan 12  
2,094,280 records, fabrication of. b.a. proctor 1937 - sept 28  
2,093,539 records, forming a.c. blaney 1937 - sept 21  
2,088,175 records, method and apparatus for duplicating w. ritzerfeld 1937 - july 27  
2,108,510 record assembly
w.. a. pringle 1938 - feb 15  
2,130,239 record, phonograph
--
j.h. hunter 1938 -  
2,116,986 " " h.f. stose 1938 -  
2,129,782 record puncturing machine r.e. paris 1938 - sept 13  
2,137,307 record for talking machines, sound w. ribald 1938 - nv 22  
2,137,621 record resurfacing tool, phonograph w. h. miller 1938 -  
2,137,383 record shaving machine t.c. brown 1938 - now 22  
2,138,346 " " s.g. Langley 1938 -  
2,150,834 record and making same, sound. g. holst and j.h., de boer 1939 - mar 14  
2,149,530
record assembly, continuous interleaved
j. loweth.

1939 - mar 7

 
2,149,500 record assembly, manifolding e.k. bottle 1939 - mar 7  
2,184,524 record blank h.e. hofmann 1939 - dec 26  
2,170,090
record, phonograph
f.v. paul 1939 - aug 22  
2,181,643 record resurfacing machine j.e. renholdt 1939 -  
2,184,368
2,184,369
" " c. huenlich 1939 -  
2,184,370 " " c.t. Jacobs and l. z. la forest 1939 -  
2,184,366
2,184,367

record shaving machine, phonograph
c. huenlich 1939 - dec 26  
2,184,365 " " r. m. somers 1939 -  
2,188,284 record and making the same s.e. adair 1940 - jan 30  
2,225,048
record and package therefore, phonograph

c.c. hasin
1940 - dec 17  

2,217,506
2,217,507

record assembly e.k. bottle 1940 - oct 8  
2,221,917 record assembly; selective separation of continuous interleave l.f. Hageman 1940 - apr 23  
2,220,030 record making machine o.j. Sundstrand 1940 -  
2,199,547
record perforating device
j.r. pierce 1940 - may 7  

2,206,636
record, phonograph j.h. hunter 1940 - july 2  
2,216,946 " " " " 1940 - oct 8  
2,198,060
record, reinforced phonograph
h. reffelt and c. cagnon 1940 - sept 3  
2,192,597 record surfacing machine, phonograph g.h. frtizinger 1940 - mar 5  
2,192,598 " "
n r.m. somers
1940 - mar 5  

 

OTHER -- INDEX SEARCH

*all links to patent images not yet active

no watts in 1932, 1934, 1936, 19401937 1942; nothing surround telegravure in 1933

presto: nothing under presto in 1932, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42– nor duall

SEARCH TERM PATENT # TITLE AUTHOR DATE NOTES
 lacquer  1,753,616  lacquer, finishing surfaces with cellulose nitrate.  h.c. mougey  1930 - apr 8  
 lacquer  2,150,096  lacquers, applying cellulose derivative.  c. bogin  1930  
 watts (author)   1,894,967 telegravure apparatus   watts, cecil f.  1933 - jan 24  
 watts (author)  2,022,330 synchronous telegraver system   watts, cecil f.  1935 - nov 26