logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as an older child

Tape recorders in the middle
years of the 20th century

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Tape recorders - a comparative rarity

When I first knew my future husband, he had what was known as a tape recorder - although a tape recorder/player might have been a more descriptive name.

Early reel to reel tape recorder/player

Early reel tape recorder/player. Screen shot from an old film.

There was no-one else I knew who had such a thing. He was extremely technically minded, and he built it himself from parts which were available in the sorts of specialist shops which started to disappear as electronic parts became smaller and integrated.

I suppose that ready-made tape recorders must have been on sale, but they would have been very expensive.

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The appearance of reel to reel tape recorders

The reel-to-reel tape-recorder contraption was a bulky thing, very like the one in the photo. For recording it was used either with a separate large microphone to record what people were saying or singing, or to record music straight from a radio. Playback normally required a separate speaker which was also bulky.

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Reel to reel tapes

Blank tapes were available for purchase, but I am reasonably certain that there were no music tapes on sale anywhere. These tapes were bulky things, sold open on their reels with no protection other than the reel itself - see the above picture.

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How to use a reel to reel tape recorder

In use, a full reel of tape on one side of the machine wound onto an empty reel on the other side. Before re-use, it had to be re-wound.

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Broken tapes

The tension of the tapes had to be just right. If it wasn't, the tape tied itself up in knots or broke.

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Cassette tape recorder/players

Smaller cassette tape recorders/players were about a decade away. At that stage, the older tape recorders/players became known as 'reel-to-reel tape recorders'.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.