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Wire Recorder

The wire recorder is a magnetic recorder and thus works on a similar principle as the modern analog tape recorder. But, instead of a plastic or paper strip coated with ferric particles (i.e. rust) that a tape recorder of any type will use, the wire recorder records onto a metal wire (usually iron, but steel wire was also used). It was invented in 1898 by the Danish engineer Valdimar Poulsen as the Telegraphone and was intended by him to be used as telephone answering machine. However, the technology turned out to be way ahead of its time and therefore he had problems marketing the device, since he had a difficulty in explaining its practical uses. Nonetheless, some machines where manufactured in Denmark just after the turn of the century, and a decade later in the USA, where they actually sold reasonably well as an office dictation machine.

After Poulsen’s patents ran out in the late 1910’s, manufacturers in the USA and particularly in Germany started to manufacture recorders that where based on his invention but utilized technical improvements such as electronic amplification which allowed for slower recording speeds (the amplitude of the output of any type of magnetic recorder is directly proportional to the speed at which the material passes by the tape head). But even though the wire recorder got some publicity at the time it did not achieve any significant popularity until after the Second World War. This was partly due to the effects of the depression and partly due to disappointing sound quality, which was greatly improved during WWII with the introduction of the AC bias. By that time, however, the technically superior Reel-to-Reel tape recorder was quickly establishing itself in the marketplace, so the wire recorder was sold as a lower cost alternative to the open reel machines. It fizzled out in or around 1950 except for the business dictation market where they survived into the early 60’s and in very small way into the 70’s. The wire recorders were mostly used as voice recording devices but saw quite some use in music recording particularly in home and hobby usage.

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