Music History

A Good Question: Who Invented the Earplugs That Keep Us from Going Deaf from Loud Music?

I never go to a gig without earplugs anymore because I did enough damage to my hearing when I was young and stupid. Now I’m grateful to whoever came up with the idea of earplugs in the first place.

Hey, that’s actually a good question. What is the name of the unsung hero who invented the earplug? Turns out it was a German in the years before WWI.  From the BBC:

The year 1907 was a pivotal one for German noise.

In Hanover, philosopher Theodore Lessing created the country’s first Antilärmverein – anti-noise society – whose members met to debate how the noises of the modern world, from factories and cars to weapons of war, would impinge on the intellectual and cultural world.

“Silence is noble,” Lessing frequently told his fellow club members.

Meanwhile, in Berlin’s Schöneberg district, pharmacist Max Negwer developed the first modern earplug, which he dubbed Ohropax, a combination of the German for “ear” and Latin for “peace”.

Negwer considered the invention a worthy medical aid. But for years he struggled to convince pharmacy owners to stock Ohropax. So he travelled around Germany, selling them to sanitariums and factories that were proliferating in the rapidly industrialising world his contemporary, Lessing, loathed.

The advent of war in 1914 would provide Negwer with a real opportunity to push Ohropax. Hundreds of thousands of deafened soldiers were returning from the front line. In 1917, Ohropax advertised its earplugs as protection “against the sound effects of the cannonade”.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38536 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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