The Wire Recorder
Webster Chicago 81-1

This page is dedicated to the Webster Chicago Wire recorder. It is hoped that your questions can be answered here. I invite additional information and correction. You can reach me via e.mail at:

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O. Smith

V. Poulson

How to splice a wire

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Schematic (actual image much larger than shown)
The History of the Wire Recorder

In  1878,  Oberlin Smith, after a trip to Edison's Labs  proposed the idea of recording telephone signals onto a length of steel piano wire. This was published in Electrical World, Sep. 8, 1888

Between about 1898 and 1900, Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen developed and patented the"Telegraphone," a telephone recorder that recorded on  steel wire. The Telegraphone (emphasis on the second syllable) was the first machine  that could record  sound magnetically. Later  Poulsen  was to demonstrate a steel tape recorder and a machine that would  record magnetically on a steel disk. These were marketed as  alternatives to phonograph- dictating machines, or  telephone recording machines.

The  Telegraphone  produced in quantity used steel wire. It was made in at least two versions.  One was manufactured  by Poulsen's workers in Denmark, and another by the American Telegraphone Company in Wheeling, West Virginia and later in  Springfield, Massachusetts.

The Telegraphone was not a successful.  It demonstrated  that a wire recorder could be used  for  applications such as office dictation and telephone recording.  European companies  attempted to market improved wire recorders for dictating and telephone recording  in the 1920s. These used the new technology of electronics. They employed  the vacuum-tube electronic amplifiers. These machines  could record  weak telephone signals and play them back  them with greater volume than with the Telegraphone. Two of these of these European machines were the "Textophone" and the "Dailygraph."

The Dailygraph was created  by German inventor Curt (or Kurt) Stille, a  leading promoter  of magnetic recording in the  1920s. It was used as  a dictation machine. It had  a special telephone for input and output, and foot pedals were used by a typist to start and stop the recording while transcribing.

AEG, a German electrical manufacturer, and I.G. Farben, a large German chemical firm, teamed in the early 1930s up to design a tape recorder that used an improved  of tape.  The solid steel band introduced by Poulsen, engineers was replaced by  a new medium consisting of a special iron oxide powder coated onto a plastic tape  Their  recorder, called the Magnetophon did not perform as well as  existing magnetic recorders. It was given numerous improvements and   became the standard machine  in all German RRG radio stations. The allies discovered it after the ware and when  Germany fell in early 1945, many examples were obtained.

Wire recorders were further  developed in the period from 1900 to the late 1940s, but they were manufactured only in very small quantities.

Consumer versions of wire recorders appeared during World War II. A  Chicago engineering student Marvin Camras created  an improved telegraphone c.  1939. Camras was interested in developing  simple, inexpensive versions of the machine.

In 1940, Camras was employed  at the Armour Research foundation, an industrial research laboratory operated by the Armour Institute of Technology (later becoming  Illinois Institute of Technology). Camras and other researchers improved the design and obtained patents.

Another  inventor, Semi J. Begun, came  to America from Germany c. 1930s, worked  on magnetic recording technology. Begun had  designed a steel tape recorder for the C. Lorenz company, which was used  in radio stations throughout Europe. Begun was hired by the Brush Development Company of Cleveland, Ohio, a private research laboratory involved with a the development of microphones and phonograph cartridges. There he designed a series of wire, tape, and magnetic disc recorders for sound recording and (analog) data recording.

By 1945 Brush  marketed  a tape recorder called  the "Soundmirror,"  like the German Magnetophon. . Brush also marketed a wire recorder at the same time. The Brush recorder used a special plated wire made of a bronze core surrounded by steel plating.

In this same period the  Armour Research Foundation received a contract from the United States Navy to invent a portable sound recorder. The original recorder adapted  make it heavy duty. From 1942 to  the end of the war, Armour and , General Electric, made  a few thousand of these recorders. They were used a portable field recorder for journalists and other purposes.

From  1945, Armour Research Foundation moved from war production to selling licenses. It  licensed the manufacture of its recorders to more than a  dozen American and European manufacturers, and also marketed a  cheaper "consumer" design.  The  income from these ventures  created funding for  further  research. Armour created universal  standards for wire speed, the wire itself, wire reels, and other basic features. Brush recorders were also available by 1946, but Brush did not  license its designs widely. Eventually   Brush and Armour would enter into a cross-licensing agreement.

The Webster-Chicago Corporation, was  licensed by  Armour, to  develop its own recorder. W-C recorders were sold well.

 Sears, Roebuck and Co. marketed The Silvertone wire recorder, which came in many models even one with a radio reciever.  Knight  also manufactured an Armour-style wire recorder

RCA developed a wire recorder in  1948 but it  used wire made by  Brush

About Webcor

Webster-Chicago Corp. (Webcor)

Webster-Chicago of Chicago, Illinois, also later known as Webcor was once a leading manufacturer of business and consumer electronics spanning more than half a century from 1914 to the late 1960ís. The product lineís included power supply, intercom and PA systems, amplifiers, phonographs and recording equipment.

In 1925 the first factory built radios in this country included "B" battery eliminators and power packs made by Webster-Chicago. In 1926 their laboratories designed and produced amplifying devices that helped create the first talking motion pictures. Webster-Chicago went on to produce and manufacturer amplification and phonograph equipment for entertainment, public address and business intercom systems which were state of the art for the time. They offered a new method of inter-office communications in large scale applications such as factoryís, office buildings, hospitals and schools.

Webster-Chicago Phonographs and Diskchanger were among the finest made and often incorporated by other manufacturers into some of the best radio and phonograph combinations of the time. They introduced many different models and designs throughout the years and led the industry in several innovations, including key contributions in pioneering the mutli-speed automatic Diskchangers that were famous for many years.

In 1945, the company became a licensee of the Armour Research Foundation and began manufacturing wire recorders, the first product being a version of the Armour "military" wire sound recorder which it sold to the U.S. Navy. The stainless steel wire was perfect for military applications as it could withstand extreme temperature and climate variations. After the war ended, Webster-Chicago continued to make wire recorders and introduced a new line of machines oriented toward the civilian market.

The "Webcor" brand was one of the best selling wire recorders ever made and the company specialized in units for both office business and consumers. The operation of the transport worked whereby a stainless steel wire with a diameter of .0036 inches traveled past a moving recording head at an average of 24 inches a second producing very good sound quality especially in some of the later high end models.The production run lasted from about 1945 through the early 1950's.

In 1952 the company also started producing tape recorders and eventually dropped its wire recorder line as the industry movement towards Hi-Fi was beginning. In that same year Webster-Chicago Corp also decided to change its name to Webcor, a shortened and more streamlined name to take the company forward into the 1950ís. The conversion of the name actually showed up on some of thier product line that year. One example was the model 210 Tape Recorder in which the top head cover displayed the name Webcor and the bottom head cover displayed the name Webster-Chicago.

The Model 210 was also the first tape recorder built for the consumer market with dual record/play heads and two balanced induction motors. This would allow for playing a tape in both directions without having to turn the reels over by hand and a single TV type control knob for ease of operation, huge selling points at that time. In 1953 the company also produced a matched 3 speaker series (213X) which began their endeavors into the Hi-FI arena. This development was also incorporated into their Webcor (Fonograph) product line as well.

Webcor continued to produce consumer electronics throughout the 1950ís and into the 1960ís creating many innovations in Hi-Fi and Stereo. The company did have business problems in later years as the industry became more competitive and saturated with foreign and domestic electronics.

The testiment to the quality of Webster-Chicago products is the fact that so many are still working some five or six decades later and can be found for sale on many auction and vintage electronics sites. Whoever said "They just don't build them like they used to" must have meant Webster-Chicago!!.

The Webcor 181 wire recorder is the unit that puts magnetic recording in the hands of thousands because of its low cost. The semi portable studio model has every feature of the larger Webcor 288 for ease of operation and general performance. However the 181 is especially suited for studio, in-plant and classroom use. Thousands of clergymen find the 181 a useful tool in rehearsing sermons and bringing services to shut-ins. Physicians use the 181 for recording case histories. Sales training experts recommend the 181 for stimulating sales programs. Educators recognize the contribution of the 181 to music, language and history courses. Where there is a need for a magnetic recorder at an extremely low cost, no unit equals the Webcor 181.

WEBCOR by Webster-Chicago


Prices slightly higher west of the Rockies

Copyright 1953


Webcor Recorders After the War

The production went from 1945-1952 when the company moved to tape recorder production.

Model 78 Looked like a Model 79  in a  compact metal chassis. It had a  VU meter for recording level. Wire speed was 24 inches per second, and the unit had a microphone, amplifier, loudspeaker,cabinet.

Model 79-- a "foundation unit" or transport - no electronics or cabinet.  the mechanism is identical to that used in the "Model 80  wire recorder." Amplifier  used 6SJ7, 6SN7, 6V6, and a 6X5 rectifier. It weighed 10 lbs. Accessories were  parts #W-173 (15 min wire); W-174 (30 min wire); W-175 (hour wire); W-077 (empty bakelite spool, 15 min capacity); W-095 (empty die cast spool, one hour capacity);  It sold for for $52.92 at Radio Shack and Lafayette. in Feb '48

Model 79  was a "base unit," or chassis,  for hobbyists. The instruction manual came with  plans for building an amplifier.

Model 80 -- Major seller c.  1940s. Advertised from June 1947; included  Shure MM-35 crystal microphone;  price $149.50 advertized  from '47-49; Consumer Reports said it had a strong shock hazzard in 1949; weighed 29 Lbs Included were  three wire spools; Described  as model 80-1 in '49 consumer reports. Similar to the models 78 and 180. Two different cabinets for the Model 80- were offered-- a  rectangular fabric-covered wood cabinet including sloping control panel ( used on  Model 181), and a compact metal cabinet. The  cabinet measured 7.5X 11.5 X 17.5 inches. It  had a  suitcase  case covered in brown plastic.

Model 178 -Marketed from  April 1950 at  $107.50; just a  chassis provide a 0 70-5000 Hz frequency response. looked like Model  79

Model 180  marketed from  April 1950; at  $149.50; included  a 2 watt amplifier; provided a  70-5000 Hz frequency response.

Model 181 Marketed from  April 1950;at  $98.50; included a  tabletop cabinet;and  1.5 watt amplifier;provided  70-5000 Hz frequency response

Model 228 --Marketed from 1952; came with a foot pedal control for starting and stopping .  Microphone = a Shure 228 with  start/stop switch. Designed for dictation/transcription . Appears like a Model 80-1 or 181 of 1951 design but also came with a compact metal case.

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1. Wire recordings are so durable they  are used in aircraft black boxes- in what  ways would they be preferable to media we use today?

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Restoration and Parts Assistance

Probably the best site out there with lots of historical information as well


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Grahme, Arthur. "Recording the Saipan Fight on Wire," Popular Science 145, December, 1944, p. 201

Morton, David Lindsay, Jr. "The History of Magnetic Recording in the United States, 1888-1978." Ph.D. thesis, Georgia Institute of Technology, 1995, p. 340-379.

Miller, John Anderson. Men and Volts at War: The Story of General Electric in World War II. New York: McGraw Hill, 1947.

"Magnetic Wire Recorder," Life 15, 1942, pp. 49-50.

Ritter, Heinz. An Introduction into Storage Media and Computer Technology. BASF,1988.

Jorgensen, Finn. 1988. The Complete Handbook of Magnetic Recording. Blue Ridge Summit: Tab Professional and Reference Books.

Read, Oliver. 1952. The Recording and Reproduction of Sound. Indianapolis: Howard Sam's & Co.

Storchheim, Samuel. 1953. "Magnetic Transfer of Stainless Steel Recording Wire." Audio Engineering. December: 19+.

Wilson, Carmen, compiler. 1950. Magnetic Recording:1900-1949. Chicago: John Crerar Library.

A large bibliography can be found here:



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Helpful Links

A detailed history of Wire recorders

All about Poulson's Patent

All about wire recordings

Audio-Restoration by Graham Newton:

David Morton's Home Page and Other Sites:

Dead Media Project:

Re: Playback of Wire Recordings: =

Recording Wire:

Vidipax: The Magnetic Media Restoration Company:

Yesterday's Office:




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Tour of My Webster Chicago Wire Recorder


Listen  to one playing

Recent Sales on Ebay



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To go to the rest of my world on the web click here