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A Brief History of Headphones

History of Headphones

Beginning - 1890

Headphones started with phone operators - It was a single earpiece that rested on the user’s shoulder and weighed over 10 pounds. 

Shortly thereafter came the Electrophone. Invented in Britain in the 1890s, this subscription service (£5 a year) allowed customers to dial in to a switchboard and be connected to a live performance from theatres across London. Cutting-edge stuff in a pre-radio world!

The Navy - 1910

Engineer Nathaniel Baldwin invented the first pair of audio headphones resembling modern day pairs at his kitchen table in 1910. The Navy ordered 100 pairs, not knowing that Baldwin was making them by hand.

Stereo - 1958

In 1958, John Koss rewrote the rule book when he created the first stereo headphones, the Koss SP-3. Early models were nothing more than mini speakers covered in cardboard and sofa foam, but their impact was immense. Rather than make do with radio communication equipment and aviation hardware, Jazz lover Koss came up with something purely for music – and he helped fuel a revolution in the way people listened to it. 

Walkman - 1979

Sony made headphones portable for the first time with their cassette player, the Walkman, which sold over 400 million units. While now a thing of the past, the habit it spawned - listening to music wherever and whenever you want - is bigger than ever.

iPod / MP3 Players - 2001

While MP3 players had been around for a minute, the invention of the iPod took portable digital music to the mainstream with their colorful commercials and clever marketing. Hundreds of millions of ubiquitous white Apple wired earbuds were suddenly everywhere.

Fashion - 2008 

Beats, UrbanEars, Skullcandy and more turned headphones from utility to fashion statement with bright colors, big headphones and expensive price tags. Pretty much every celebrity had a headphone affiliation at one point, with some of them making a pretty penny on acquisitions in the space. 

Social Good - 2013

LSTN launches and is the first headphone company that uses the proceeds for social good. Since launch we’ve helped over 30,000 people hear for the first time through our partnerships with non-profit partner Starkey Hearing Foundation.

 

Sources:

Smithsonian, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN, “The  Early Radio  Industry and the  United States Navy,” History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy (1963): 133-152; Peter John Povey and Reg A. J. Earl, Vintage Telephones of the World (London: Peter Peregrinus Ltd., 1988); Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. by Geoffrey Winthop-Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); Virginia Hefferman, “Against Headphones,” The New York Times (January 7, 2011); Mark Schubin “Headphones, History, & Hysteria” (2011), http://www.schubincafe.com/2011/02/11/headphones-history-hysteria/; “Koss History,” http://www.koss.com/en/about/history; Google patents

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