Wire recording's most widespread use was in the 1940s and early 1950s, following the development of inexpensive designs licensed internationally by the Brush Development Company of Cleveland, Ohio and the Armour Research Foundation of the Armour Institute of Technology (later Illinois Institute of Technology). These two organizations licensed dozens of manufacturers in the U.S., Japan, and Europe.
Consumer wire recorders were marketed for home entertainment or as an inexpensive substitute for commercial office dictation recorders. However, the introduction of consumer magnetic tape recorders around 1948 quickly drove wire recorders from the market.
The development was to place the two poles on the same side of the wire so that the wire was magnetised along its length or longitudinally. Additionally, the poles were shaped into a 'V' so that the head wrapped around the wire to some extent. This increased the magnetising effect and also increased the sensitivity of the head on replay because it 'collected' more of the magnetic flux from the wire. This system was not entirely immune to twisting but the effects were far less marked.
The longitudinal method survives into magnetic tape recording to this day.
Wires also came in different lengths, such as 15 or 30 minutes. After recording or playback, the reel had to be rewound, because, unlike the later tape recorders, the takeup reel on most wire recorders was not removable. In practice, the fine wire easily became tangled and snarls were extremely difficult to fix. Editing could be accomplished by cutting the wire and tying the ends together, with the knot sometimes welded with the tip of a lit cigarette. Although wire was difficult to edit, it provided tremendous advantages over trying to edit material recorded on transcription disks, which was usually accomplished with stopwatches, multiple turntables and a lot of patience. The first regularly scheduled network radio program produced and edited on wire was CBS' "Hear it Now" with Edward R Murrow. Recording wire would run through a slit on the record and playback head which on many machines moved up and down like a fishing reel to ensure the wire was placed on the take-up reel evenly (on high-end machines moving wire guides performed this function). Tied-knot edits would cause the wire to pop out of the slit in the head, but it would drop back into the slit after the edit passed. This brief dropout could make editing music problematic.
Some wire recorders were also used in aircraft cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders beginning in the early 1940s, mainly for recording radio conversations between crewmen or with ground stations. In this capacity, being somewhat more resilient than magnetic tape, wire recorders survived somewhat later, being manufactured for this purpose through the 1950s and remaining in use somewhat later than that. There were also wire recorders made to record data in satellites and other unmanned spacecraft of the 1950s to perhaps the 1970s.
In 1949 at Fuld Hall in Rutgers University, Paul Braverman made a 75-minute recording of a Woody Guthrie concert using a wire recorder. The recording only came to light in 2001, and appears to be the only surviving live recording of Woody Guthrie; it was restored over several years and released on CD in 2007. The CD was subsequently nominated for and won a 2008 Grammy award.
Firesign Theater released an album titled "Everything You Know Is Wrong" in 1974. In this album, the narrator (Dr. Cox) informs the audience that Indians can be in two places at once, and that they invented the wire recorder. He claims to have proof, and cuts to an audio recording of a civil war-themed comedy sketch.