When Were Earphones Invented: A Brief History and Timeline

Earphones date back to the late 19th century, initially used by telephone operators, with key advancements by Ernest Mercadier and Nathaniel Baldwin.

Invention and Early Development

Earphones were invented in the late 19th century.</p><p>A scene with a workshop table, tools, and early electronic components could depict the early development of earphones

Birth of Earphones

The history of earphones can be traced back to the late 19th century.

At that time, they were primarily used by telephone operators to keep their hands free while connecting calls.

These early earphones were simplistic, with mediocre audio quality, nothing like the modern high fidelity headphones we use today 1.

Ernest Mercadier and Early Patents

In 1891, a French engineer named Ernest Mercadier 2 invented what he called a “bi-telephone” – the first recorded version of in-ear headphones.

Mercadier was granted a US patent for his invention, numbered 454,138 3.

These early earphones were lightweight and portable, bearing a resemblance to the in-ear monitors (IEMs) used today.

Nathaniel Baldwin and Advancements

Another notable name in the history of headphones is Nathaniel Baldwin, an American inventor who contributed to the field during the World War I era.

Baldwin gained distinction when his design was adopted by the US Navy as a crucial communication tool during the war4.

His advancements in sound reproduction and quality helped pave the way for the development of modern headphones.

One key aspect of the early development of earphones was the invention of the headphone jack.

The original 6.35mm (or 1/4 inch) audio jack was invented in the 19th century for use in telephone switchboards 5, and has since continued to be a standard connector for various audio devices.

In conclusion, the invention and early development of earphones were greatly influenced by the work of inventors like Ernest Mercadier and Nathaniel Baldwin.

Their contributions, combined with advancements in audio technology, have made it possible for us to enjoy the high-quality headphones and earphones that are widely available today.

Technological Evolution and Modern Designs

Earphones surrounded by vintage and modern technology, with a timeline showing their evolution from their invention to modern designs

From Mono to Stereo

The introduction of stereo sound, pioneered by John C. Koss, revolutionized the audio world and transformed the way headphones were perceived.

With the invention of Koss SP-3, stereo headphones appeared in the 1950s, readily replacing the earlier mono headphones.

Stereo sound provided a more immersive and realistic audio experience to its users.

Portable Audio Revolution

The 1979 introduction of Sony’s Walkman completely altered the way people consumed audio content.

This portable device became hugely popular, and along with it, headphones started to shrink in size and weight to accommodate a more mobile lifestyle.

Sony played a significant role in shaping modern headphones technology, offering an impressive balance between audio quality, portability, and visual appeal.

Wireless and Bluetooth Innovations

The development of wireless headphones began in the 1960s and ’70s with the use of am/fm radio antennas to transmit audio signals.

However, Bluetooth technology, introduced in the late 1990s, revolutionized wireless audio transmission.

Brands like Beats by Dre made wireless headphones a fashion statement, while products like Apple’s AirPods turned true wireless earbuds into popular and convenient choices for modern consumers.

As headphone technology evolves, future trends signify a shift towards smart headphones equipped with features such as voice assistants, health tracking, and adaptive noise cancellation.

Companies like Onkyo have already introduced high-quality true wireless earbuds, like the W800BT, that promise to offer exceptional sound quality without any wires, setting the stage for the future of headphones.


  1. Headphones – Wikipedia

  2. When Were Headphones Invented: The Complete History

  3. US Patent no. 454,138

  4. A Partial History of Headphones – Smithsonian Magazine

  5. The History of Headphones: A Historical Perspective