Who Invented The Boombox?

Every generation produces its own pop-culture touchstones that are remembered fondly, through the lens of nostalgia, many years later. The 1980s, in particular, produced more than their fair share of movies, TV shows, songs, and artifacts bearing the true hallmark of that decade.

As NPR notes, hip-hop and its most visible prop, the boombox, both emerged in the 1970s. However, it was in the 1980s that their popularity caught on, as Masterclass explains. For a while in the 1980s, no self-respecting breakdancer or hip-hop artist was seen without toting a shoulder-mounted, portable musical system. And in some communities the bigger the boombox, the better. 

The boombox was, at the time, symbolic of the progress consumer electronics technology had made up until that time, according to British specialty audio company Outdoor Speakers. Specifically, it was the advances in music recording, the use of large batteries for portability, and speaker technology that made the boombox a must-have for young people who wanted to take their music with them.

From the R&D department at Philips

The boombox wasn't invented by one person, but rather, it built on earlier innovation in audio technology, according to Outdoor Speakers. The first version of the machine, called the "Radiorecorder," was produced in the Netherlands by the Philips Audio Company, in 1966. This proto-boombox was developed for users to record music directly from the radio onto a cassette tape. It also contained portable speakers for playback, and operated on batteries rather than an electrical cord. It wasn't until almost a decade later that boomboxes were introduced to America.

However, it was actually in Japan where boomboxes first took off. The country was undergoing a demographic shift at the time, with young people leaving their rural homes for a more urban lifestyle (per Outdoor Speakers). In the densely packed cities, the boombox afforded the Japanese youth an easy way to play music. It would be a few years later, in the late 1970s, when boomboxes started getting big in the States. And, in a major stroke of serendipity, these portable recording devices would help capture and spread a new sound that was emerging in urban America: The sound that would come to be known as hip-hop.