Columbia was originally the local company distributing and selling Edison phonographs and phonograph cylinders in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Delaware. As was the custom of some of the regional phonograph companies, Columbia produced many commercial cylinder recordings of its own. Columbia severed its ties to Edison and the North American Phonograph Company in 1893, and thereafter sold only records and phonographs of their own manufacture.
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, although they continued pressing and selling cylinder records from their back catalogue for a year or two more.
In early 1925 Columbia began recording with the new electric recording process licensed from Western Electric. In a secret agreement with Victor, both companies did not make the new recording technology public knowledge for some months, in order not to hurt sales of their existing acoustically recorded catalogue while a new electrically recorded catalogue was being built.
In 1948 Columbia introduced the Long Playing Record LP (sometimes in early advertisements Lp) format, rotating at 33 & 1/3 rotations per minute, which became the standard for the gramophone record for half a century.
Distributes Ode Records between 1967-1969 and between 1976-1978.
In 1988 Columbia Records (then known as CBS Records outside the U.S. and Canada) was acquired by Sony, who re-christened this 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 in all markets except Japan (where that division is called Sony Records and is still fully owned by Sony). In Japan, the trademark ("Magic Notes") is still held by the former Nippon Columbia, now called Columbia Music Entertainment.