Skip to main content


April 2023
1min read

George F. Paul’s letter in the November 1989 issue says it was a fairly long wait until laterally cut disc recordings became either cheaper or better than vertically cut cylinders, which would tend to make one wonder how the disc won out.

In point of fact, the disc recording was both cheaper and better. Disc records were cheaper to make because they could be molded, while cylinders had to be individually cut: The “flashing” where the two mold halves meet occurs on the unplayed edge of a disc, but twice per groove in a cylinder. (Eventually, the cylinder people solved that, but it took a while.) That being the case, I imagine that either the price of disc recordings soon dropped below that of cylinders or an increased profit margin on discs encouraged dealers to push them.

Discs are also a far more compact storage medium. Discs stack flat, with little wasted space; when you store cylinders, you store a quantity of air inside each one’s center tunnel.

Incidentally, vertically cut “hill and dale” discs were also issued (by Pathé, as I recall, and probably by others). Today’s stereo phonograph cartridges, which respond to both vertical and lateral groove displacements, can be used to play these discs and cylinders, if the leads on one channel of the cartridge are reversed; styli for old groove shapes are also available for some current cartridges.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "April 1990"

Authored by: John McDonough

It is to the U.S. Air Force what Normandy is to the U.S. Army. The monuments are harder to find, but if you’re willing to leave the main roads, you will discover a countryside still eloquent of one of the greatest military efforts in history.

Authored by: The Editors

Women Who Opened the West

Authored by: Lawrence Block

A novelist turned compulsive traveler tracks a peculiar quarry all across America

Authored by: Walter Karp

When Pierre S. du Pont bought the deteriorated Longwood Gardens in 1906, he thought that owning property was a sign of mental derangement. Still, he worked hard to create a stupendous fantasy garden, a place, he said, “where I can entertain my friends.”

Authored by: Bill Merrell

The author leads a search for hidden treasure in the amazingly complete documentary history of a California ghost town

Authored by: Thomas Fleming

A novelist and historian takes us on a tour of the Academy at Annapolis, where American history encompasses the history of the world.

Featured Articles

The world’s most prominent actress risked her career by standing up to one of Hollywood’s mega-studios, proving that behind the beauty was also a very savvy businesswoman. 

Rarely has the full story been told about how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.