How Germany's love of silence led to the first earplug

Germans have a difficult relationship with noise. They hate it and complain loudly, writes Sean Williams, who has traced Germany's relationship with sound and the invention of the first earplug.

The year 1907 was a pivotal one for German noise.

In Hanover, philosopher Theodore Lessing created the country's first Antilärmverein - anti-noise society - whose members met to debate how the noises of the modern world, from factories and cars to weapons of war, would impinge on the intellectual and cultural world.

"Silence is noble," Lessing frequently told his fellow club members.

Meanwhile, in Berlin's Schöneberg district, pharmacist Max Negwer developed the first modern earplug, which he dubbed Ohropax, a combination of the German for "ear" and Latin for "peace".

Negwer considered the invention a worthy medical aid. But for years he struggled to convince pharmacy owners to stock Ohropax. So he travelled around Germany, selling them to sanitariums and factories that were proliferating in the rapidly industrialising world his contemporary, Lessing, loathed.

The advent of war in 1914 would provide Negwer with a real opportunity to push Ohropax. Hundreds of thousands of deafened soldiers were returning from the front line. In 1917, Ohropax advertised its earplugs as protection "against the sound effects of the cannonade"....more