Plugged into the rhythm


Marianna Marsden

(photo illustration)

Kitty Knorr, Writer

We are all fortunate enough to experience and have access to a basic education. However, sometimes it is a struggle to remain grateful, especially while sitting inside an actual classroom.

Imagine, it’s the end of the day and you find yourself barely staying awake at the sight of your teacher’s Gold Rush documentary. The clock marks that the period is half way over, but you have mentally checked out. All of a sudden the historically accurate dramatization comes to a lull and the volume lowers. However instead of silence, your ears pick up a new sound … a tune. It’s a quiet hum of a bass drop that catches your attention. Adverting your eyes away from the Gold Rush, you pick up your head and look at the dude sitting next to you. And that’s when you realize, hidden beneath the layer of his polyester hood, he is blasting Taylor’s Swift’s latest hit through his headphones.

Headphones. They play such a vital role in the music industry, but they also take center stage in our daily lives. From practical beginnings to modern billion dollar brands, the headphone has had an interesting history.  Engineer Ernest Mercadier was awarded a patent for the first ever in-ear headphones in 1891. The invention was designed to be used by telephonists (who would operate switch boards –whatever a switch board is). Telephonists also wore the earbuds to block out external sounds. Years later, a different engineer named Nathaniel Baldwin invented the first pair of audio headphones on his kitchen table in 1910. His idea was picked up by the US Navy, who ordered 100 pairs and made him a rich man. However, Baldwin quickly lost his earnings as he invested his fortune in supporting the Mormon polygamous movement and went bankrupt.

But religious movements aside, the production of headsets stemmed from militant roots. It didn’t take long for the invention of the speaker and music to join forces. The most important of which was Sennheiser’s HD 414, the world’s first open headphones. This lightweight game changer was an instant hit, with music fans happy to ditch the bulky closed back claustrophobic headsets of the past and embrace a smooth clear open sound. 100,000 sets were sold by the end of 1969.

Nowadays it’s brands like Beats by Dre that rule the scene, as headsets have gained attention for both function and fashion. From Apple earbuds to noise canceling headphones–this invention has proven to have major staying power and support from it’s consuming customers. With public access to music, there is a high public demand for the tool to listen to said music.

Next time you catch yourself singing along to the beat blasting from someone else’s ear bud, stop and take a minute to tell them what you learned about headphones, but wait until they take their headset off first.