The 8-track — formally known as the Stereo 8 Cartridge — was created in 1964 as the brainchild of Bill Lear and engineers at the Lear Jet Corporation.
That’s the official answer to “When did the 8-track come out?”, but there are other candidates.
See, like most everything else, there is some perspective involved in answering this question.
Among the other possibilities …
First Magnetic Sound Reproduction — 1940s
The idea of using magnetic tape for sound recording and playback that ended up in 8-track cartridges was first brought to the United States market in the 1940s.
Only problem was, it employed reel-to-reel technology and required the consumer to load the tape onto the reels.
And once you’re done with that, I have a rope-handled shovel I want you to use to dig a hole for me.
First Tape Cartridges – 1952
In 1952, Bernard Cousino came up with the “endless loop” concept, which eventually fueled the 8-track.
In the ensuing years, others picked up on the idea and refined it to some degree, and Earl “Madman” Muntz eventually developed his Stereo-Pack four-track cartridge in 1962 as the latest and greatest of the perpetual loops.
8-Track Design – 1963
Back in the 1940s, Bill Lear had worked to put together an endless-loop audio recording device and tapes … and he sort of flopped.
He abandoned that effort in 1946, but the dream never died.
Armed with the knowledge of Muntz’s success, Lear tapped Richard Kraus at the Lear Jet Corporation to pick up the mantle and make the thing commercially viable.
What Kraus came up with was a design the doubled Muntz’s tracks from four to eight, bumping the playing time to 80 minutes.
First 8-Track Players – 1964
In 1964, Lear produced 100 demo models of their new Stereo 8, which caught the attention of RCA and Detroit.
Which led to …
First 8-Track Players in Cars — 1965
In 1965, Ford introduced 8-tracks as both factory-installed and after-market options for three 1966 models — the Mustang, the Thunderbird, and the Lincoln.
Armed with this mainstream exposure, 8-tracks gained in popularity through the rest of the 1960s. And, though Muntz offered his 4-track for use in cars, too, the 8-track ate his invention like a busted tape recorder munching on, well, tape.
First 8-Track in Funkytown — 1979
Funkytown, in this case, was my house growing up.
We may have been rhythmless white hicks, but we dug our tunes — dammit. Still do.
In the late 1970s, one of my aunts worked for RCA.
That was cool because she never bought anybody any gifts — ever — but she was happy to shuttle corporate perks our way.
One of those perks was a scratch-and-dent factory reject of a stereo system she gave my dad for, like, his 31st birthday. Geezer.
Anyway, it had an 8-track player.
And my grandmother chipped in our first 8-track cartridge — Neil Diamond’s You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.
We were in the big time, and we hissed our way right on through the first few years of the 80s.
That’s when my first Styx cassette finally killed the 8-track.
We may not have been forever in 8-track blue jeans, but we were there for a good, long while.
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