the Walkman TPS-L2, image from Wikipedia.org
The blue-and-silver Walkman pictured above was the first model introduced, going on sale in Japan on July 1, 1979. It hit the U.S. in June 1980. Today the idea of a device at least twice the size of an iPod which held 60-90 minutes of music may seem positively quaint, but at the time the Walkman marked a new era for music on the move. The Walkman represented individual portability; listeners no longer had to rely on big bulky ghetto blasters which shared one’s music with the world, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Suddenly a person could pop in a favorite cassette, plug in a pair of lightweight headphones, and the music could travel with them wherever they went and as long as a pair of AA batteries could take them.
Walkman was a brand tradename used by Sony to mark their portable audio cassette players. The company is still around today, marketing portable audio and video players as well as mobile phones. The prototype for the first one was built by Sony engineer Nobutoshi Kihara in 1978. Sony co-chairman Akio Morita reportedly wanted to listen to operas during long plane trips.
the Stereobelt, image from thenutgraph.com
However, the Walkman owes a debt to a predecessor known as Stereobelt which was invented in 1972 by Andreas Pavel, a German-Brazilian. He had the device patented in Italy in 1977. When Sony began selling its Walkman, it agreed to pay Pavel royalties, but only for sales in Germany. Lawsuits followed over the years, finally endingin a multi-million dollar settlement in 2003.
Eventually the Walkman would see the cassette market disintegrate and portable CD players (including Sony’s Discman, introduced in 1984) would take over. Once the digital age hit, there was no need for music to be stored on a device such as a cassette or disc, opening up the possibilities even more. However, every owner of an iPod or other digital music device owes thanks to the original portable music player.
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