At age 23, the Godfather of album cover art, Alex Steinweiss accepted a job to design promotional materials for Columbia Records. What would happen next would revolutionize the music industry, specifically vinyl records, when he invented the illustrated album cover. A rather obvious, but brilliant, idea was to create a titillating graphic package that would, not only protect the record, but advertise the artist and the music contained therein (prior to this, records were sold in plain, undecorated wrappers).
Records used to be relegated to the back of the stores that sold refrigerators and stoves. Youd go to the counter and ask for the title you wanted, recalled Steinweiss. I needed to shake up the industry, we had to do something like European poster art to draw the attention of the buyer.
And shake up the industry is just what Steinweiss did. Starting in 1939 with his first covers, for a collection of Rodgers & Harts Musical Hits, Columbia executives saw the sales of the illustrated albums skyrocket, including one by more than eight hundred percent. Soon after that 78 rpm albums were adorned with decorated covers and displayed in store windows.