Videotape Recorder

Charles Ginsberg invented the videotape recorder, that put images onto tape, in 1951. Ampex sold their first video recorder, the VRX-1000, in 1956 to CBS for $50,000 ($462,000 in 2018). Ampex recorders were sold exclusively to television studios.

Before videotape recordings, television broadcasts either played a movie in front of a TV camera or broadcast live. There were earlier video tape-recording devices, but they never worked well enough for commercial use. Pre-recording television shows became the norm after the invention of the videotape recorder.

Ampex was a “stock market darling” during the 1950s. However, after a 1960 announcement that GE was entering the market (which they never did), the stock price dropped and never recovered.

Eventually, Japanese companies earned the lion’s share of revenue and profits from home video technology. After two bankruptcies, Delta Information Systems purchased Ampex for the brand name in October 2014.

High Fidelity Sound Recording & Playback


German engineer Eduard Schüller created and patented the Magnetophon, a high-fidelity audio recording and playback machine. Working for German company AEG, he patented the invention in December 1933. AEG was a leading electrical company that had evolved from the Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft, the German Edison Company.

Schüller perfected an earlier tape-recording device invented by Oberlin Smith, an American engineer, though Smith’s device never functioned well. Schüller used magnetic tape, invented and manufactured by Fritz Pfleumer and eventually owned by BASF, to record sound.

By the time of Shüller’s invention, AEG was a Nazi supporter. The AEG recording technology was unknown outside Nazi Germany.

Due to the high playback fidelity, recordings sounded live. Hitler routinely recorded himself and the recordings were portrayed as live speeches in one city, to make it sound like he was there, when was actually somewhere else. After the war, allies found 350 Hitler recordings.

Magnetophon worked well for speeches but not for music until Pfleumer, from German company BASF, invented a better type of recording tape.


After the war, US engineer Jack Mullin brought Schüller’s device, called a Magnetophon K (K stands for Koffer, or suitcase; portable), to the US. There it came to the attention of engineers at AMPEX, a US electrical engineering business then focused on small motor design.

AMPEX realized their expertise in small precision motors overlapped with the need to mass-produce the recording devices and built a highly successful audio recording business. AMPEX recorders marked the beginning of recorded radio broadcasts; before the Magnetophon commercial radio broadcasts were live. Decades later, AMPEX would innovate the video recorder and do the same for television broadcasts.

Magnetic Tape Recording

Poulsen, a Danish engineer, created and patented a machine that recorded onto magnetic tape. His called the invention a Telegraphone. There was no amplification and the recording quality was poor.

In 1928, Pfleumer, a German, vastly improved the magnetic tape. He named his device a Magnetophone. During WWII the Germans used it for communications and to spoof radio communications. Nazis time-shifted recorded conversations leaving allies unsure whether they were hearing intercepted real communications or purposefully misleading recordings.

American John Herbert Off captured the Magnetophone and, after the war, brought it to the US for commercialization. He teamed up with Russian immigrant Alexander M. Poniatoff who eventually created Ampex (Alexander M. Poniatoff Excellence) from the shell of a former company, Dalmo-Victor.

Existing recording technologies were not adequate for live broadcasts. But Ampex equipment offered vastly higher quality for live broadcasts. Therefore, radio broadcasts were virtually always live. Then superstar Bing Crosby heard the new technology and eventually decided to use Ampex equipment for his radio show. This enabled re-takes and post-production engineering we now take for granted.

Ampex and magnetic tape recording subsequently became a ubiquitous technology.