Highway Hi-Fi: The World’s First In-Car Record Player

In the 1950s, anything worth doing you did in a car, except listen to records, which are gigantic and requite a flat, motionless surface. So in 1955, CBS Research, a corporate sibling of Columbia Records, instructed their scientist employee Peter Goldmark to come up with a way to play records in cars. Goldmark’s design, the Highway Hi-Fi, not only worked, but was genius in its simplicity: 16 2/3 rpm records. They were the size of 45s, but held as much music as an LP. Since they played extra slow, the music sounded normal. Goldmark also made them twice as thick and heavy as regular records to weigh them down on the turntable, and added a spring-loaded needle arm, which didn’t have to move much because by their nature, the grooves on the 16 2/3 rpm discs were very close together. The whole thing was then enclosed in a cabinet bolted on the floor underneath the dashboard. Only one auto maker thought it was a sure bet: Chrysler, who made the Highway Hi-Fi an option for its entire 1956 line. The Highway Hi-Fi was a commercial flop – you could only buy the special records through a catalog, and the only titles available were Broadway cast albums and classical music. Chrysler discontinued the option by 1957.

(Photo from Audiophilia.com)

Brian Boone

From the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Northwest, I contribute to the Retroist, write for trivia publications, and blog about music in a humorous fashion. I feel about "Back to the Future" the way you feel about "Star Wars." Also, I'm married and have a child (sorry ladies, orphans).

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5 thoughts on “Highway Hi-Fi: The World’s First In-Car Record Player

  1. Brian Boone says:

    Most consumer tech fails because it’s just plain stupid, but I honestly think that if they’d offered rock n’ roll or pop records for it, it would have caught on. Yes, the sheer idea of a record player in a speeding car is absurd, but the solution they came up with was pretty ingenious. I’d love to find some 16 2/3 records at the Goodwill.

  2. Ugly American says:

    Proprietary formats – is there anything they can’t turn into a failure?

    This is not much crazier than a CD player.

  3. metagirl says:

    This is really cool. Shows how all distribution channels need to work together. Can’t have a record player without any records, but the concept was good, and the design looks awesome.

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