Japan Data

Music on the Move: Sony’s Walkman Turns 40

Society Culture Lifestyle Music

In July 1979, the Sony Walkman went on sale, making music truly portable for the first time. Forty years later, we look back on the impact it had on the industry.

A favorite playlist is one way to take the edge off a packed commute or liven up a training session at the gym. Today, many music fans listen to songs downloaded to their smartphones, but the original Walkman was the first device to make music truly portable. Sony launched the personal cassette player 40 years ago, on July 1, 1979.

A Walkman Timeline

1979 • The original Walkman goes on sale on July 1 at a price of ¥33,000. Explosive popularity from autumn to the end of the year results in repeated shortages. The first device has no Walkman logo.
1980 • Renowned conductor Herbert von Karajan makes headlines when he says he is a Walkman fan.
• Aiwa launches its Cassetteboy device, the first Walkman rival in a soon-to-be-crowded personal music player market.
1981 • The second-generation Walkman goes on sale.
• The authoritative French dictionary Petit Larousse becomes one of the first global lexicons to add an entry for “Walkman.”
1982 • The first compact discs available worldwide—developed by Sony and Philips—go on sale in Japan.
1983 • Sony achieves one of its initial development targets by reducing the Walkman to the size of a cassette box.
1984 • The Discman portable CD player goes on sale.
• Compact disc sales overtake those of LP records.
1986 • The Oxford English Dictionary adds an entry for “Walkman.”
1987 • Sony develops the first Walkman smaller than a cassette box.
• Sony airs a celebrated TV commercial showing a monkey listening to a Walkman. (Choromatsu, the monkey appearing in the ad, passes away two decades later, in 2007, at the age of 29.)
• A Walkman goes on permanent display in the Smithsonian Museum.
1992 • The MiniDisc Walkman goes on sale.
1993 • Walkman products reach total sales of 100 million.
1999 • The Memory Stick Walkman goes on sale.
2001 • Apple launches its iPod digital music player.
2007 • Apple launches its first-generation iPhone.
2010 • Sony withdraws its cassette Walkman products from the market.
2011 • Sony withdraws its MiniDisc Walkman products from the market.
2016 • The high-end Signature Walkman series goes on sale, with the most expensive device selling for more than ¥300,000.

Classic cassette players: from left, the original 1979 Walkman, second-generation 1981 devices, and lighter 1985 versions using slim, rechargeable batteries.
Classic cassette players: from left, the original 1979 Walkman, second-generation 1981 devices, and lighter 1985 versions using slim, rechargeable batteries.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Detail from the first Walkman catalog Courtesy Sony.)

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