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10 Portable Facts About the Walkman

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On June 22, 1979, Sony invited a group of journalists to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo and handed each of them a small blue and silver device attached to headphones. After they pressed play, an audio presentation informed them that the international electronics conglomerate was releasing a portable cassette player called the Walkman. As they listened, models on roller skates, skateboards, and tandem bicycles circled through the park with Walkmans on their waistbands and new lightweight earphones atop their heads.

Less than two weeks later, on July 1, 1979, the Walkman hit store shelves in Japan. It would popularize the compact cassette developed 15 years earlier by Dutch manufacturer Philips, help define the ’80s, and usher in a new era of device-enabled disconnection. The Walkman and the company behind it are profiled in John Nathan's book Sony; here are a few things you might not have known about the device.


Sony cofounder Masaru Ibuka officially retired in 1976, but he continued to advise the company after his departure. In February 1979, he made a personal request of executives: an easy-to-carry device that would allow him to listen to operas on cassettes during international flights. It turned out to be a pretty simple request to fulfill: Kozo Ohsone, general manager of the tape recorder division, adapted a Pressman—a recording device that Sony marketed to journalists—by replacing the recording mechanism with a stereo amplifier and circuitry.


In the ’70s, Sony introduced its Betamax tapes, video cameras, and players. Though popular with film production companies for their sound and picture quality, Betamax products were knocked out of the consumer market by the VHS tape, a product of JVC (the Victor Company of Japan). By 1980, VHS had more than half of the market share, and Betamax kept losing ground until it represented less than 10 percent of the market in 1986. VHS tapes could hold 120 minutes, compared to the 60 minutes of the original Betamax tapes, and JVC entered into savvy licensing agreements with American, European, and Asian electronics companies to create VHS-compatible products. Sony never successfully licensed Betamax technology, and its failure was a humiliating blow to the company.

Sony’s chairman and other cofounder, Akio Morita, received a Walkman prototype soon after Ibuka got his, in the spring of 1979; he used it while golfing and was amazed by the quality of the sound. He thought the device could redeem Sony and rushed it into production for release that summer. This meant there wasn’t much difference between the first Walkmans on the shelves and the prototype made for Ibuka.


Morita wanted the new device to be marketed to teenagers; he had seen teens lug radios and boomboxes to beaches and up mountains. This meant offering it at a price much lower than that of the Pressman—which retailed in the U.S. for $400 (in 1979 dollars)—even though it contained mostly the same technology. Morita’s imagined retail price for the Walkman was the equivalent of $125 in Japanese Yen. At that price, Sony needed to produce and sell 30,000 Walkmans to turn a profit—a hefty first order for a new product, especially at a time when compact cassettes were a fraction of the prerecorded music market and seen mostly as a professional tool to record speech.

The teen angle also meant that Sony had to produce new, more stylish and lightweight headphones, improving on the earmuff-like ones available at the time.

The initial ad campaigns emphasized youth and sportiness: young people on roller skates and bicycles, earphones on their ears and Walkmans on their belts. One advertisement said it all: a young, pretty girl with a Walkman wearing futuristic earphones walking past an elderly monk wearing a clunky, old ’60s-style headset.


Two months after the July 1 rollout, Sony sold out of the initial production in Japan. The company intended to introduce the Walkman to foreign markets in September 1979, but scrapped that plan in order to dedicate production to meet Japanese demand. This only made the Walkman more desired in other countries. Tourists and airline crews searched them out and brought them home. Whenever Sony executives went abroad, colleagues badgered them about obtaining Walkmans.


In 1979, the year of the Walkman’s release in Japan, recorded music sales were about $4 billion in the U.S., half of which went to vinyl, a quarter to compact cassettes, and a quarter to 8-tracks, according to Mark Coleman's book Playback. The Walkman made its U.S. debut in June 1980, and just three years later, in 1983, cassettes overtook vinyl as the top format. By the time Sony stopped manufacturing the Walkman portable cassette players in 2010, the company had sold around 385 million units.


In an essay that may seem either quaint or prophetic in the age of smartphones, Japanese professor Shuhei Hosokawa accused the Walkman of altering the urban landscape, from one in which experiences were shared and spontaneous into one where individuals were preoccupied and autonomous in thought and mood. In a 1984 article for the journal Popular Music, entitled "The Walkman Effect," Hosokawa, of the inter-university International Research Center for Japanese Studies, wrote that the “listener seems to cut the auditory contact with the outer world where he really lives: seeking the perfection of his ‘individual’ zone of listening.”


The Walkman coincided with the exercise craze of the ’80s, which saw the Western middle class, newly confined to office jobs, take to the gym and fitness classes. “[A]lmost immediately, it became common to see people exercising with the new device,” Richard James Burgess wrote in The History of Music Production. “Appropriate personalized music eases the boredom and pain of repetitive exercise.”


Nearly every consumer electronics company released a portable tape player in the ’80s, most of which undercut the Walkman in price. Yet because of brand power, the Walkman was unbeatable. A decade after its launch, it retained 50 percent of the market share in the U.S. and 46 percent in Japan despite costing about $20 more than the average personal tape player.


For a decade, Sony created new redesigned and specialized Walkmans, including water-resistant, solar-powered, and double-cassette-deck models. By 1990, 80 varieties had gone to market.


In 1979, the year the Walkman quickly went from prototype to cultural sensation, Sony president Norio Ohga commissioned a joint task force with Philips to create a commercially viable digital audio disc, which became the compact disc. Ohga championed the CD and was sideswiped by the company cofounders’ enthusiasm for the Walkman, its instant success, and the resultant surge in the cassette market.

But Sony slowly rolled out the compact disc in the ’80s, and by the end of the decade, CDs had overtaken cassettes as the most popular format. Because the Walkman brand had become so associated with tapes, Sony used the term Discman for most of its portable CD players.

Meanwhile, Sony continued manufacturing Walkmans, at a reduced capacity, until 2010, when it manufactured and shipped the last order of cassette players under the name. (The company still licenses the name to Chinese manufacturers of tape players, though.) The company has used the Walkman name for some of its MP3 players and cell phones to date.

11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal

Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).


Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.


A display of tools.

Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.


A stack of bed linens.

Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.


Rows of holiday gnomes.

If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.


Child choosing a toy car.

Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.


Rows of rings.

Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.


Searching for flights online.

While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.


Gift basket against a blue background.

Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.


Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.


Group of hands holding smartphones.

While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.


Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.

Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?


For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.


Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."


Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.


Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”


Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn


Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.


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