The Sound of Progress: Developments in Sound Over Time

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The Sound of Progress: Developments in Sound Over Time

When you think about your favorite song, there’s often something in the lyrics or melody that is most captivating. Whether it’s a compelling string of words or sensational guitar scale that draws you in, one thing is certain: sound is a powerful and moving force.

In the modern age of wireless speakers and high-resolution headphones, it’s easy to listen to music purely to enjoy what you hear. While we’ve come to expect the best in audio transmission quality, the clarity we take for granted has been a product of decades of musical evolution and technological advances.

Driven to make the world more audibly pleasing and accessible, National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) innovators have made advances to sound technology over time by continually pushing the boundaries of what was once thought possible.


Wallace Clement Sabine – Architectural Acoustics

If you’ve ever enjoyed the impeccable acoustics of a concert hall or been impressed by a professor whose voice can reach the back of a large auditorium, then it’s likely that you’ve benefited from the work of NIHF Inductee Wallace Clement Sabine.

Sabine created the field of architectural acoustics when he was asked to improve the sound quality of a lecture hall at Harvard University at the turn of the 20th century. Through experiments, he was able to determine the relationship between the quality of acoustics, the size of the chamber and the number of absorption surfaces present. The unit of sound absorption, the sabin, was even named after him.


Peter Goldmark – Long-Playing (LP) Record

Before there were Walkmans, MP3 players and streaming services galore, the best way to listen to your favorite album was through a record player.

In 1948, NIHF Inductee Peter Goldmark and his team at CBS Laboratories introduced the long-playing (LP) record. Goldmark invented the LP by slowing the record from 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) to 33 1/3 rpm, increasing the length of the groove and decreasing its width. He also made the LP of vinyl rather than shellac and improved the phonograph’s stylus and tonearm.

Goldmark’s invention revolutionized the music recording industry by allowing longer pieces to play without interruption, forging a new market for in-home entertainment.


Les Paul – Solid-Body Electric Guitar

One of the most iconic images of rock and roll is the electric guitar. Thanks to the groundbreaking work of guitarist and NIHF Inductee Les Paul, the music industry was forever changed once this instrument hit the stage.

Though he created his earliest prototype a decade earlier, Paul worked with Gibson Guitar Corp. to introduce the solid-body electric guitar in 1952. This kind of guitar was built without a sound box and relied on an electromagnetic pickup system to receive vibrations from the strings.

The emergence of this instrument not only offered musical experimentation, but also allowed for the rise of new recording techniques. It’s no wonder that in upcoming decades, bands like The Beatles would take the world by storm with their original sound and exploration into different genres.


Nicole Black and Michael J. Kreder – PionEar

Ears are miraculous organs. The ability to hear can be one of the most exhilarating of the five senses, allowing us to perceive everything from music to laughter to changes in someone’s tone of voice. When hearing becomes challenging or even painful, however, it’s difficult to remain present and engaged in daily life.

2018 Collegiate Inventors Competition® Finalists and Harvard University graduate students Nicole Black and Michael J. Kreder are dedicated to solving one of the major threats to healthy hearing: ear infections. To help prevent potential hearing loss or damage, they invented PionEar – the biofilm-resistant tympanostomy tube that effectively prevents clogging and premature extrusion, minimizes damage to the eardrum and reduces the risk of unnecessary revision surgeries to replace failed ear tubes.

Black and Kreder’s work is a powerful example of using 21st-century technology to tackle an age-old problem.


The Celebration of Sound Continues

On Saturday, September 21, be part of the celebration of sound as the Smithsonian’s 15th annual Museum Day takes place. This year’s theme is the “Year of Music” and the event brings together sound-related resources across disciplines such as art, history and science. Learn more about NIHF’s involvement in Museum Day here.

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