A history of earplugs

Published: 06th July 2009
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Ancient times

There's nothing new about the idea of using earplugs to shut out noise. A particularly famous example from classical literature appears in Homer's poem, the Odyssey.

In the poem the Greek King of Ithaca, Odysseus, orders the crew of his boat to put beeswax in their ears while they sail past the Sirens. The Sirens are creatures - half-bird, half-women - that tempt sailors into the treacherous water by singing to them.

Odysseus himself doesn't use beeswax. Instead he tells his crew to fasten him to the mast of his ship. The beauty of the Sirens' song almost drives him mad, but his sailors, thanks to their earplugs, don't hear a thing.

This whimsical tale is the earliest known record of earplug use. Beeswax was a popular option at the time and remained so until quite recently.

Later developments

Over the centuries, many people have used earplugs of one sort or another. In the absence of beeswax, local materials, culture and wealth dictated how craftspeople made and even decorated them.

The materials included clay, cotton, wood, ivory and silver. The decorations took the form of engravings or tassels. How effective such earplugs were at blocking out noise is unclear. Nonetheless, they were in steady demand.

The modern earplug

Earplugs as we know them today are far more comfortable than their predecessors. Companies make them using mouldable silicone or foam, or durable plastics such as acrylic.

It was in 1962 that Ray and Cecilia Benner created the first silicone earplugs. They bought a company called McKeon Products that had previously made clay earplugs. The Benners used McKeon Products to produce their new silicone version, and marketed this on the grounds that it prevented an ear infection known as swimmer's ear.

Because silicone earplugs are waterproof, they were a great success. They also worked very well at reducing noise.

In 1972, an inventor names Ross Gardner came up with another type of earplug made of foam. He based his idea on the padding he found in headphones. By using polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), foam earplugs can dramatically cut noise levels.

Today, you can buy earplugs for a wide range of uses. You may need them for work or sport; or you may want to shut out distracting noises and get a good night's rest. Whatever your requirements and budget, earplugshop.com can help you.

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