There are many objects that were commonplace in our boomer years that have either disappeared from view or have taken a back seat at best. A case in point is the 45 rpm adapter. Its shape is immediately identifiable to boomers, yet today it is mainly audiophiles who know of its purpose.
The story of how it came into being is an interesting one, and its origins go back to before the first boomer hit the scene. Throughout the early 1900s and into the 1920s, there was only one size of record, and that was a 10-inch disc with a small hole in the center that slipped over the phonograph spindle. The record speed was played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm), and this became the de facto standard.
Throughout the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, there were two companies that dominated the phonograph market: RCA Victor and Columbia. Each manufactured machines and created record companies to produce the records to play on them. Enmeshed in a competitive battle, each worked to find ways to get one leg up on the competition. In 1948, their paths veered when Columbia introduced the first “long-playing” 12-inch album, played at 33 1/3 rpm. This speed change would require all future phonographs to play at either 78 or 33 1/3 rpm. RCA went a different route and created a new format, which they defined as a 7-inch record with a large, 1 1/2 inch hole in the center. Further, it was meant to be played at 45 rpm. RCA manufactured the phonographs to play their new-format records. Shortly after, RCA introduced the first drop changer spindle that allowed the listener to stack multiple records all at once. The machine would drop each record one after the other to be played. This increased the amount of time that you could listen to music before having to get up and change the records.
By the 1950s, all brands of phonographs had to allow for the possibility of playing records at 78, 33 1/3 and 45 rpm. Since RCA was a major figure in releasing popular music, even if your record player was not an RCA brand, it needed to find a way to play RCA 45 rpm records, too. Over time, other record companies began to produce records in the format, too. Phonograph companies supplied spindles made of metal or hard plastic to fit over their own, but as can be expected, over time the mechanics of it broke down or the spindle was lost. So the stage was set for the Boomer Generation and the dawn of rock & roll to catapult the use of the 45 rpm adapter into an everyday object.
In 1950, the first separate adapter was released by the Webster Chicago Company. It was made of zinc and, once inserted, was nearly impossible to remove without breaking the record. Soon after, companies experimented with various shapes; ideally, the adapter needed to be easily removed and reused, yet be strong enough to play the record without wobble, and help to separate records when they were stacked so the drop function of the phonograph would operate correctly. Eventually, three major styles with a different number of prongs surfaced as viable in the marketplace, including the spiral Hutchinson model many people identify with the boomer era. It was named after New Jersey inventor Tom Hutchinson, a technician at the Walco Corporation, a company that manufactured cartridges, phonograph needles and phonograph cleaning accessories.
By the 1980s, first cassette tapes and then CDs put an end to vinyl 45 rpm record sales, and with it, the need for multiple adapters in every household. Many boomers had dozens of the plastic inserts permanently placed into their favorite 45s, so they could drop them on the record player at any time.
Mister Boomer’s family received their first record player as a hand-me-down from a cousin when she bought a newer model. It was the portable box variety that looked like a small suitcase when closed. Once opened, the center spindle was ready to receive a stack of 45s, as long as you had the 45 adapters in place. Fortunately, those were inexpensive and readily available. The family needed to go buy some records, so they went to the five and dime and bought a package of a dozen records and adapters. That first package that Mister Boomer’s family bought had a 45 rpm by the Beatles in it. Therefore, She’s a Woman was one of the first 45 rpms that Brother Boomer slipped an adapter in and played in the Mister B household.
How about you, boomers? What do you recall about 45 rpm adapters?