Before MP3s, CDs, cassettes and vinyl records, people listened to … cylinders. First made of tinfoil, then wax and plastic, cylinder recordings, commonly the size and shape of a soda can, were the first commercially produced sound recordings in the decades around the turn of the 20th century.
The UCSB Library, with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Grammy Foundation and donors, has created a digital collection of more than 10,000 cylinder recordings held by the Department of Special Collections. To bring these recordings to a wider audience, the Library makes them available to download or stream online for free.
This searchable database features all types of recordings made from the late 1800s to early 1900s, including popular songs, vaudeville acts, classical and operatic music, comedic monologues, ethnic and foreign recordings, speeches and readings.
The website also includes the Library’s collection of more than 650 Vernacular Wax Cylinder Recordings, which in 2015 were selected to be part of the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. These personal recordings, also known as home wax recordings, were made by everyday people at home, not by record companies or field researchers, and capture the early spirit of the public’s interaction with recording technology.
On this site you will have the opportunity to find out more about the cylinder format, listen to thousands of musical and spoken selections from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and discover a little-known era of recorded sound. If you know what you are looking for, click the search button to begin, or you can browse by genre or sample some of our favorite selections in the featured cylinder section or by listening to online curated content.
An initiative of the UC Santa Barbara Library • (805) 893-5444 • Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9010. Direct questions or comments about the project or this page to the project staff or visit the help pages.
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