Megaphones, also called bullhorns, speaking trumpets and loud hailers, are devices used to amplify the human voice. They are instantly recognisable by their distinctive conical shape, which focuses sound waves to make them travel farther than they otherwise would. Megaphones, in some form, have been used for thousands of years. The electric or powered megaphone, a much more recent invention, incorporates a loudspeaker to further amplify the voice.
In ancient Greece, in the 6th century B.C., theatrical masks featured a conical mouthpiece that amplified the voice, early examples of the principle of the megaphone. According to the Design Real website, it wasn’t until 1650 that Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit scholar, invented the modern megaphone. In 1672, Sir Samuel Morland invented the speaking trumpet, a variation on Kircher’s megaphone. Morland’s speaking trumpet was constructed in many sizes and was considered an instrument.
In 1919, Edwin S. Pridham developed the first electronic microphone and amplifier. The technology he developed would later be integrated into the first electronic megaphone, according to the website Old Picture. As electrical equipment became more streamlined, the megaphone became a hand-held portable unit without an external amplifier.
Megaphones are still available in acoustic varieties without built-in electronic amplifiers. Powered megaphones are available in a variety of sizes and with a variety of features. Some powered megaphones offer options for broadcasting music, altering voices and producing siren sounds for crowd control, according to the website Audiolinks.
Cecil B. DeMille was the first director to use a megaphone during the shooting of a movie, according to the Internet Movie Database. According to one Hollywood legend, DeMille used the megaphone to communicate with actors during a massive battle scene shoot in 1913. Today, the megaphone is an iconic addition to a director’s regalia.
Megaphones have always been used to address crowds of people in the place of a microphone. They have been famously used as tools for protesters, police, directors, lifeguards and politicians. Today, acoustic megaphones are still used by many indigenous cultures during religious rites and traditional ceremonies, including by such dissimilar cultures as those in Africa, Brazil and Switzerland, according to Audiolinks.