History of the Loudspeaker

Primitive Loudspeakers Were Created in the Late 1800s

 Les Chatfield/Creative Commons

The very first form of loudspeaker came to be when telephone systems were developed in the late 1800s. But it was in 1912 that loudspeakers really became practical -- due in part to electronic amplification by a vacuum tube. By the 1920s, they were used in radios, phonographs, public address systems and theater sound systems for talking motion pictures.

What is a Loudspeaker?

By definition, a loudspeaker is an electroacoustic transducer that converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound. The most common type of loudspeaker today is the dynamic speaker. It was invented in 1925 by Edward W. Kellogg and Chester W. Rice. The dynamic speaker operates on the same basic principle as a dynamic microphone, except in reverse to produce sound from an electrical signal.

Smaller loudspeakers are found in everything from radios and televisions to portable audio players, computers and electronic musical instruments. Larger loudspeaker systems are used for music, sound reinforcement in theaters and concerts and in public address systems.

First Loudspeakers Installed in Telephones

Johann Philipp Reis installed an electric loudspeaker in his ​telephone in 1861 and it could reproduce clear tones as well as reproduce muffled speech. Alexander Graham Bell patented his first electric loudspeaker capable of reproducing intelligible speech in 1876 as part of his telephone. Ernst Siemens improved upon it the following year.

In 1898, Horace Short earned a patent for a loudspeaker driven by compressed air. A few companies produced record players using compressed-air loudspeakers, but these designs had poor sound quality and could not reproduce sound at a low volume.

Dynamic Speakers Becomes the Standard

The first practical moving-coil (dynamic) loudspeakers were made by Peter L. Jensen and Edwin Pridham in 1915 in Napa, California. Like previous loudspeakers, theirs used horns to amplify the sound produced by a small diaphragm. The problem, however, was that Jensen could not get a patent. So they changed their target market to radios and public address systems and named their product Magnavox. The moving-coil technology commonly used today in speakers was patented in 1924 by Chester W. Rice and Edward W. Kellogg. 

In the 1930s, loudspeaker manufacturers were able to boost frequency response and sound pressure level. In 1937, the first film industry-standard loudspeaker system was introduced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer​. A very large two-way public address system was mounted on a tower in Flushing Meadows at the 1939 New York World's Fair. 

Altec Lansing introduced the 604 loudspeaker in 1943 and his "Voice of the Theatre" loudspeaker system was sold beginning in 1945. It offered better coherence and clarity at the high output levels necessary for use in movie theaters.The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences immediately began testing its sonic characteristics and they made it the film house industry standard in 1955.

In 1954, Edgar Villchur created the acoustic suspension principle of loudspeaker design in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This design delivered better bass response and was important during the transition to stereo recording and reproduction. He and his partner Henry Kloss formed the Acoustic Research ​company to manufacture and market speaker systems using this principle. 

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Bellis, Mary. "History of the Loudspeaker." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/history-of-loudspeaker-4076782. Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). History of the Loudspeaker. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-loudspeaker-4076782 Bellis, Mary. "History of the Loudspeaker." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-loudspeaker-4076782 (accessed June 10, 2023).