The first version of headphones were invented in the 1800s and has since evolved into using wireless and bluetooth technology, like the Apple Airpods pictured above. (Photo courtesy A R C H I G E R O S A/Unsplash)

By Jordan Thomas
Special to the AFRO

American History is filled with great inventions that have revolutionized our modern world. One of those inventions is the headphones and earphones. According to the website Audio Reputation headphones were first invented in 1881 and used primarily by telephone operators that were bulky and massive and weighed approximately 10 pounds. In the early days of headphones, switchboard operators used headphones as their primary work gear. 

From the early 1890s through World War many women were employed as telephone operators in which they used telephone switchboards to plug and unplug phone jacks to transfer phone calls from an office, home, or place of business. In the early years of the 20th Century a new type of headphone was invented by a religious man named Nathaniel Baldwin to have better sound quality at a Mormon temple he enjoyed visiting. 

Gary Therkildsen, 42, of Baltimore who works in the field of nonprofit advocacy, said “The first time I ever used headphones or earphones was at the age of 12. I enjoy using headphones/earphones. They allow me to listen to music without disturbing others, as well as to make phone calls without having to hold a phone up to my ear.” 

In the late 1970s Sony invented a portable device called the Walkman or TPSL-2 which enabled users to listen to their favorite music without disturbing other people. 

In the 1980s other advancement occurred with headphones with the release of more portable and practical headphones. In the late 1980s Dr. Amar Bose introduced the first noise canceling headphones which reduced noise isolation. In the 1990s headphones would advance further with more portable technologies like CDs, cassette tapes and mini discs. Sony in 1997 introduced its neckband headphones and in 1999 Sony introduced Bluetooth technology to the consumer market. 

Theo Nehemias 31, who works as a project manager in Baltimore, remembers his first-time using headphones: Nehemias said, “I remember borrowing my older brother’s portable CD player when I was about six and listening to his CDs. My favorite pair were over-ear headphones made by Sennheiser. I asked for them for Christmas when I was a teenager,” 

“I used to really enjoy high quality over-ear headphones to get the best audio experience but I’ve shifted to using ear buds because of their convenience. I use a pair of wireless earbuds when I ride my bike and those are cool because I can take phone calls from on them and listen to music and the audio is still ok. interesting to look back and see how far the technology has come.”

In the 21st Century headphones continued to advance with Bose’s release of the QuietComfort product line in 2000, which improved noise canceling technology. The following year the iPod was released and could store over 1,000 songs and featured miniature headphones. 

According to the New York Times the history of earphones dates to the early 1850s and comes in two forms: some were made to cover the ear, others were placed in the ear canal. The article also mentioned that “earbuds didn’t hit their market peak until after 2001 when Apple started selling them for use with MP3 players.”

The writer is a graduate student at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

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