With the world going digital, it may seem like some of the old relics of innovative technology are being forgotten. After all, these inventions were groundbreaking at one point in time. The 8 track tape was a significant and noteworthy part of music recording history, and deserves to be remembered for the doors it opened back then. So let’s take a look at the 8 track history, answering questions like when did the 8 track come out and what made it so special? We’ll also highlight some of the most impressive facts about this unique piece of recording technology.
When Did the 8 Track Come Out?
So, when did 8 track tapes come out? Many are surprised to learn they weren’t released in the 60s. This is because while the format gained commercial success around this time, earlier versions of the 8 track were actually invented in the 40s and 50s.
First released in the late 1940s but rising in popularity throughout the 50s and 60s, the 8 track tape was a game changer for music listeners who — until its release — were unable to listen to music on the go.
Before we delve into the question of “When were 8 track tapes invented?”, let’s discuss why they were invented. Prior to the 8 track, listeners were confined to the record players in their homes, or to car radios over which they had no control. The 8 track was a new frontier, allowing music fans to purchase tapes from their favorite artists and listen to them almost anywhere. Before long, 8 track players were installed in vehicles, and miniature portable players were frequently seen, carried conveniently by their built-in handles.
So, when was the 8 track invented, exactly? The answer isn’t as straightforward as one might think.
In the 1920s, a German man by the name of Ludwig Blattner invented the very first version of the steel tape recorder, which in the 1930s was revamped as the reel-to-reel recorder, utilizing magnetic film. The Germans used this new technology during World War II and it was eventually obtained by The Allies, who brought it back home to America.
Eventually, the technology was shared with Hollywood and the race began to create a more consumer-friendly version of the magnetic tape that could play on a continuous loop. The first to achieve this was William Powell Lear, the founder and creator of LearJet.
By 1966, the Ford Motor Company was including an 8 track player in all of its new vehicles, and many companies were producing 8 track players, including Pioneer, Panasonic, and RCA.
As you can see, answering the question of “When were 8 tracks invented?” can be a bit of a challenge, but it’s certainly an interesting story to tell!
How Does an 8 Track Work?
Now that we know when and why 8 tracks were created, let’s discuss how these classic tapes actually worked.
Inside each 8 track tape is a long loop of ¼-inch magnetic tape that is coiled around a single hub (often referred to as the reel holder). The motor inside each device pulls the tape across an audio head which reads the tape and translates it into sound. Each tape had eight tracks (hence the name eight track player), as well as a metal sensing strip that notifies a solenoid coil when a program (two songs or tracks) has ended and it’s time to switch to the next program.
This ability to play continuously — without requiring the listener to “flip” a tape or vinyl record — was what made the 8 track so revolutionary.
8 Track History: 3 Little Known Facts
Even if you’re a history buff, you may not know these fun facts about the 8 track!
The Most Valuable 8 Track is Sinatra Jobim By Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim
This limited-release album was only produced in 8 track format. Only 3,500 copies were made and sold before the artists ultimately decided to call it quits on the project. Today, a copy of Sinatra Jobim can go for $5,000 or more.
An Illinois Man Has The Largest 8 Track Collection in the World
His name is Gary Hiezman and as of 2019 he had a total of 93,337 tapes, which took up much of the space in his basement and his entire garage.
You Could Buy a Beatles Greatest Hits 8 Track Tape for $4.97 in 1970
This tape was highly sought after and thus fetched a higher price tag upon release than most others, which typically sold for $2-3 at the time.
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What Are 8 Track Players Worth Today?
The value of an 8 track player depends on a number of factors. First, you’ll want to determine the brand of the 8 track player. Brands like Pioneer, Akai, and Wollensak have gained quite a reputation amongst audiophiles for producing superior sound, so these may attract higher offers than other models.
You’ll also want to consider when the 8 track was made. Now that you’re familiar with the 8 track’s history, you know when the first units were produced. As with most collectible items, the older an 8 track player is, the more likely it will be appraised at a higher value.
Last but not least, you’ll need to factor in the condition of the player. Most avid enthusiasts are looking to add well-preserved units to their collections, so the more pristine the unit, the better. If you still have the original manual or packaging that came with the device this will also add value.
As a reference point, a mint condition Wollensack 8056A can sell for as much as $500, while smaller portable units can range from $30-250.
From 8 Track to Digital
Whether you were simply curious and decided to Google “what year did 8 tracks come out?” or you’re a seasoned collector, there’s no denying that the 8 track holds a special place in the audio history books. It was an unprecedented development at the time of its creation and as technology becomes more advanced and increasingly digitized, the 8 track will only become more venerated.
As a business with 30 years of experience offering photo scanning, video, film, and audio conversion, photo organizing, custom family history books and edited video, we still find ourselves fascinated by technologies of the past — including the 8 track.
If you’re looking to digitize any of your old audio, video or film formats, we accept mail-in orders from anywhere in the US and we offer some of the fastest turnaround times in the business! We also digitize photos to preserve your memories. We do things affordable, better, fair & fast, and personal.
Whether it’s a favorite limited release album, a special recording made by a family member, or a taping of a historical event — we can ensure you get the highest quality audio from your digitization project. Reach out today!