The 8 track tape was designed by jet plane designer William Powell Lear. He is most famous for his jet, the Learjet, he also developed a way to create eight channels (tracks) of magnetic recording tape. This invention revolutionized music technology and the way we listened to music. The eight track tape fad really only existed in the United States from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, when cassette tapes took over.
With Lear’s new device, the eight track tape, it was possible to record one continuous loop of tape and wind it into a cartridge without damaging sound quality. The automobile industry was quick to capitalize on the new trend and install eight track players in their new lines of vehicles. In 1966, Ford offered both factory-installed and dealer-installed eight track players in its luxury vehicles, and Chrysler and General Motors followed suit by 1967.
In 1966, over 65,000 players were sold, and their eight track was becoming an important part of driving in America. In fact, the convenience and portability enjoyed in the car began to spread into the home and more. The eight track soon transcended driving culture as it was brought to parks and beaches across the nation. In 1970, eight track manufacturing was brought to Europe. Though the attempt was largely unsuccessful and the company failed in just four short years, vintage eight tracks can still be found in the United Kingdom, West Germany, Italy, and more. The first karaoke machine was actually made from an eight track.
The fame of the eight track was on the rise for a decade. Competitors who created smaller cassette tapes found methods of increasing quality, and the ease of damaging and decreasing quality of the eight track drove consumers to embrace a new decade of music technology. The smaller cassette, which was only a third the size of an eight track tape, was already favored by the mid-1970s. Retail stores stopped selling eight track tapes in the 1980s, and by 1988, the last famous album, Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits was released on 8 track. The once-stunning piece of technology became a footnote in the history books, but many fans of that era of music and culture can still dig up an old eight track tape in the attic and recall fond memories of hitting the open roads listening to their favorite music.