The Walkman celebrates its 40th birthday on Monday. On July 1, 1979, Sony’s first portable cassette player was released for the first time. The devices have been out of production since 2010, but they have built up an industry of mobile music players.
The Walkman was certainly not the first portable cassette player, but without a doubt the most popular. The concept for the first Walkman was conceived by Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka, who wanted to find a better way to listen to music during long flights. He initially used a cassette recorder that the company already built, but that was mainly used by journalists to make recordings. The device was large and heavy, and Ibuka wanted a more compact design. He then designed a new cassette player based on the Sony Pressman recorder, on which the name Walkman was eventually based. The first Walkman was called the Walkman TPS-L2, a stereo player that first went on sale in Japan on July 1, 1979.
At the time, the Walkman cost about 700 guilders, which, adjusted for inflation, would now be about 755 euros. Initially, Sony had great difficulty getting the Walkman into stores, because retailers believed that a cassette player should also be able to record. Among consumers, however, the device turned out to be much more popular than expected; Sony sold 50,000 in the first two weeks.
In total, more than 400 million copies of the Walkman have been sold, but only half of them could actually play cassette tapes. For example, later evolutions of Walkman-branded devices could also play CDs and minidiscs. MP3 players with the Walkman brand name also appeared on the market. In October 2010, Sony ceased production of Walkmans cassette tapes. The reason was a lack of interest in the devices after 31 years, although there seems to be a small revival in the popularity of cassette tapes recently.