Pathé was founded by brothers Charles & Emile Pathé, who were owners of a succesful bistro in Paris. About 1890 they saw an Edison phonograph demonstrated at a fair, and were captivated by the device and arranged to lease one as an attraction at their bistro. The early phonograph soon brought so many curious people to the Pathé establishment that lines formed to listen to it. Some even asked about purchasing phonographs for themselves. The brothers decided that rather give more business to Edison, they would make their own phonographs. In 1894 they started selling their own phonographs (early on based on Edison Company design) together with blank phonograph cylinders for people to make records with. Some time later they also started marketing pre-recorded cylinder records, and by 1896 had offices and recording studios not only in Paris, but also in London, Milan, and Moscow.
In October of 1906 they entered the growing field of disc records. Pathé discs were unlike any others. The groves were cut vertically into the discs, rather than the more common lateral method. The grooves and were wider than that used by any other company, requiring a special ball-shaped .005 inch radius stylus to track them. The discs rotated at 90 rpm, rather than 78 or 80. The recordings started on the inside near the center of the disc, spiraling out to the edge rather than vice-versa. Possibly all of this unusual technology was a preventive measure to ensure that no other record company could sue Pathé for violating their patents. Even the record sizes were unusual; other disc records came in 5 inch, 10 inch, and 12 inch sizes, while Pathés came in 8½ inch, 11 inch, 14 inch, and 20 inch sizes. Unsurprisingly, these Pathé system records could only be played on Pathé phonographs, which in turn could not play other types of recordings. With good marketing, Pathé machines and records became popular in France, but Pathé failed to make any significant headway into markets such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America, where other systems were already accepted in general use.
Pathé also continued making cylinder records up to about 1914. In addition to cylinders compatible with the 2¼ inch diameter Edison standard, from about 1902 to 1910 they also produced larger 3½ inch "Salon Cylinders".
Pathé was the first company to commonly make master recordings in a different media than the final commercial product. In Pathé recording studios, masters were made on huge rapidly spinning wax cylinders. (Does anyone have info on the actual measurements of the masters? One recording artist said they were "as wide as a barrel".) These large master cylinders were said to capture higher audio fidelity than was available on any mass marketed recordings of the time. The various types of commercial Pathé cylinders and discs were then dubbed from these masters. This master & dubbing process was both a strength and weakness for Pathé. It enabled copies of the same master recording to be made available on multiple formats. The acoustical-mechanical dubbing process, however, resulted in uneven results on the final commercial record, many having a pronounced rumble or other audio artifacts from the process.
Various attachments for other brands of phonographs to enable them to play Pathé records were marketed in the 1910s, but sales in the lucrative USA market remained small.
In 1920 Pathe introduced a line of what it called "needle cut" records (i.e., compatible with other standard brands of 78 discs), at first mostly for the USA market. The "needle cut" records were called Pathe Actuelle. They were introduced in the UK the following year. This venture was successful, and within a few years these "needle cut" discs were selling more than the vertical Pathés even on the continent.
United States Pathé was purchased by the American Record Corporation (?c. 1931?)
The Pathé Brothers were also important in the cinema industry.
See also: List of record labels