How Headphones Have Changed The Modern Office

Why do you wear headphones? The average person listens to 32 hours of music a week, much of which is through headphones while performing other tasks. But we aren’t just listening to music on those headphones. We’re also making calls without having to hold our phones up the whole time, listening to podcasts while we commute, or even just wearing headphones with nothing playing through them as a signal that we’d like to be left alone. There are as many different reasons to wear headphones as there are styles of headphones to choose from, and how you use your headphones can say a lot about you.

The History Of Headphones

As soon as electricity became harnessed and piped into homes and businesses, people were looking for ways other than light and refrigeration to harness this life-altering invention. Communication tools like radios became commonplace by the 1920s, but even before that headphones tapped into telephone wires could give you access to live performances as early as 1895. It was extremely costly, though — £5 a year, which amounts to more than £630 pounds a year in today’s money.

A few years later in 1910, the first headphones as we know them were invented by Nathaniel Baldwin. He made them in his kitchen and sold the first 100 pairs to the United States Navy. Eventually the Wireless Specialty Apparatus Company of Boston, Massachusetts bought the rights to manufacture them, but only under the condition that they wouldn’t increase the price of the headsets sold to the Navy.

It wasn’t until 1937 that the first headphones for home use were manufactured, and the first headphones designed for listening to music were manufactured in 1958. Lighter and more portable headphones came along in 1968, and when the first Sony Walkman was manufactured in 1979 it had two headphone jacks for shared listening. This changed the way people interacted with their music, giving them access to a cassette player on the go.


Portability in music was the theme of the next two decades, which gave us compact discs, portable CD players, and ever smaller and lighter headphones on which to enjoy our music on the go. Digital music gave way to the MP3 player, and although the music quality was not as good as it was on a compact disc, the fact that you could fit your entire music library on a device the size of a pack of gum made it a very popular choice. Small earbuds became the ultimate in popularity during this time thanks to their lightweight, portable and inexpensive nature, while during this time period large, over the ear headphones became synonymous with DJs and rave culture.

Headphones Serve A Multitude Of Purposes

In 2000 Bose released the Quiet Comfort headphones, and while they were initially designed for airline pilots to protect their hearing, they eventually became synonymous with business travelers trying to get a little peace and quiet.

In the workplace, headphones have replaced walls as people look for solutions to the problem of working in open offices. The overwhelming majority of people say that listening to music in the workplace makes them more productive, and most bosses agree. 46% of people say they wear headphones to avoid conversation, and workers report that listening to music reduces their stress, makes mundane tasks more bearable, and improves focus.

Women also use headphones to prevent harassment. Oftentimes they aren’t actually listening to anything, but rather using them to signal that they aren’t interested in conversation, which can make them feel more safe in public spaces.

Learn more about the history and future of headphones below!



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