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  • Jennifer Barlow

From Ear Horns to AirPods: A Brief History of Headphones

Let’s face it, headphones are the OG wearable technology. They’ve given us sanity on noisy commutes, hands-free phone calls, and a universal sign for “don’t talk to me” when walking down the street. But no matter how you use them, chances are you’ve never heard of their humble and heavy beginnings. So plug in (or pair up) and listen to this crash-course on the history of headphones.



Telephone Operator Headsets - Early 1880s

Like most modern technology, headphones began as a workplace tool. Used by telephone operators, the device consisted of a single earpiece that rested on the users shoulder and weighed a staggering 10 pounds. Kind of like holding a modern day boombox over your shoulder.




The Electrophone - 1895

It may look more like a stethoscope than a pair of beats, but the Electrophone was the pioneer of personal listening technology. Invented in England, it allowed users to dial a switchboard operator who would then connect them to a live feed of various music performances and church services around the city of London. Consider it Apple Music’s great-great grandfather. It even had a monthly subscription fee!





In the Navy - 1910

Nathaniel Baldwin invented the first “modern” pair of headphones in 1910 with the goal of using them to amplify the sermons at his Mormon church. They contained a mile of copper wire in each ear cup. His creation really took off when the US Navy bought 100 pairs during World War I.




The Koss Era- 1950s - 1970s

In 1958, inventor John Koss built the first pair of hi-fi stereo headphones to promote his new portable phonograph. They initially kept much of Baldwin’s original design, but the pop culture of the 60s and 70s soon took over. “Beatlephones” inspired by the ubiquitous foursome taking over airwaves at the time would usher in a new age of marketing geared towards teens and young adults.




The Walkman - 1979

Sony’s debut of the Walkman created a demand for smaller, lightweight headphones to allow for more freedom and mobility. It gave users the ability to take their listening experience out in public, while also providing a sort of mobile privacy. The two headphone jacks also gave rise to the concept of aftermarket headphones, and suddenly there were hundreds of options on the shelves of bodegas and pharmacies everywhere.






iPods and Earbuds - 2001

Apple’s promise of “1000 songs in your pocket” also had a complete redesign for headphones. Now users could put them in their ears instead of over them. Their minimalist, sleek design boasted range of motion, and those iconic ads brought apple into the world of being a “status symbol” with the younger generation.





Bluetooth and the Rise of the AirPods: 2004-present

Although Bluetooth has been around since 1999, it wasn’t until the mid 2000s that wireless headphones took off. In 2017, Apple shook up the industry yet again with the introduction of AirPods. Since then, dozens of other big name audio brands like Bose and Samsung have come out with their own versions. While there will always be purists who prefer over-the-ear headphones, there’s no doubt these tiny marvels now reign supreme.



Whether you’re a Beats lover or an AirPod devotee, ownable has all the latest products to give you that personal listening experience. Check out our expansive selection of brand new headphones and grab your favorites for just a few dollars down. You’ll be jamming in no time.

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