Columbia Records is the oldest continually used brand name in recorded sound, dating back to 1888. Columbia was originally the local company distributing and selling Edison phonographs and phonograph cylinders in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Delaware.
Columbia began selling disc records and phonographs in addition to the cylinder system in 1901. For a decade Columbia competed with both the Edison Phonograph Company cylinders and the Victor Talking Machine Company disc records as one of the top three names in recorded sound. In 1908 Columbia introduced mass production of “Double Sided” disc records, with recordings stamped into both sides of the disc.
In July of 1912 Columbia decided to concentrate exclusively on disc records, and stopped recording new cylinder records and manufacturing cylinder phonographs. In early 1925 Columbia began recording with the new electric recording process licensed from Western Electric.
In 1931, the English Columbia Graphophone Company merged with the Gramophone Company to form Electric & Musical Industries Ltd. (EMI). EMI was forced to sell its American Columbia operations because of anti-trust concerns to the American Record Corporation (ARC).
In 1948 Columbia introduced the Long Playing microgroove (LP) record (sometimes in early advertisements Lp) format, rotating at 33⅓ revolutions per minute, which became the standard for the gramophone record for half a century.
In 1988 Columbia/CBS Records was acquired by Sony, who re-christened the parent division Sony Music Entertainment. As Sony only had a temporary license on the CBS Records name, it then acquired from EMI its former rights to the Columbia trademarks outside the U.S., Canada and Japan (Columbia Graphophone), which generally had not been used by EMI since the 1960’s.
Sony merged its music division with Bertelsmann AG’s BMG unit in 2004; the combined company, Sony BMG, continues to use the Columbia Records name and Walking Eye logo in all markets except Japan (where that division is called Sony Records and is still fully owned by Sony).