Posted by: kaleidophonic | June 22, 2012

Listening Technologies Before the Invention of Radar

What’s that you say? Sorry, can’t hear you. Just let me put in my giant ear-trumpets…

Ahhhhh that’s better. Now what were you’re saying?

Now, if you’re like me, when you saw this photo your response was probably along the lines of “What in the mother-loving heck is that?” Followed by, “It’s so… AWESOME!!”

I’ve recently discovered an incredible historical image archive called and it has a whole gallery devoted to weird and wonderful images of pre-radar listening technologies. You might be surprised to know that a lot of these things actually worked, but when radar came along they became basically obsolete. Why physically extend the human faculty of listening when we can just bounce signals off of objects instead?

Seriously, check out the Retronaut “Listening Before Radar” gallery.

And if that doesn’t slake your thirst, here’s a few more that I found on the interwebs.

This one is Japanese (the website calls it a “Japanese War Tuba”). For scale, compare it to the anti-aircraft guns on the right. Too bad they didn’t develop this project further. Radar made it obsolete.

This one of parabolic ears is one of my favorites. I might actually have to put it up on Facebook as my new profile picture…

And below, we have an image from an old newspaper article published shortly before the end of the First World War. “Balloon Microphones to Warn of Air Raids”.

And last, but not least, this next image is from England. Before radar was invented the British military built these “concrete ears” all along the coast. Here’s the caption from EverydayListening (which is a pretty cool sound-related website):

These concrete ‘Listening Ears’ in Denge, England […] were used to detect slow moving enemy planes in the years before radar was invented.

The sound waves reflect on the surface and concentrate in the middle, where most probably a microphone was attached. This technique does work – try holding the palm of your hand behind your ear, you will hear things better! – but as planes became faster and radar was invented around 1935, these Listening Ears became obsolete.


  1. I love quaint WWI tech. Ever heard of camera-pigeons?

  2. I guess you are in Montreal? I am intrigued the pot banging approach.

    Great pictures!

    • Yup, I’m in Montreal. The pot-banging protests have received lots of comment, and there’s an effort now to spread it to the rest of Canada as a protest against the policies of the Harper gov’t. Thanks for checking out my blog – hope you drop by again soon!

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