Cheerleading Megaphone History

A few hundred years ago, if you held a "speaking trumpet", "blow-horn", "bullhorn", or "loud hailer" up to your mouth, you were using what is known today as a megaphone.

The megaphone is a portable handheld, cone-shaped device used to amplify the human voice in a given direction, and is most often used at events involving large audiences. There are two kinds of megaphones, acoustic and powered. The acoustic kind is simply a funnel through which the voice is projected. The electric megaphone consists of a funnel, amplifier, microphone, and loudspeaker. And although we commonly associate the megaphone with cheerleading, it was around long before that.

The megaphone can be traced to seventeenth century England with Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher, and others, who began exploring ways to amplify the human voice. However, Johann Heinrich Lambert is said to have been the first to theorize how the device works. But travel back to sixth century Greece where amphitheaters were popular gathering places, and you'll find a much earlier use of the megaphone. Since there was no electricity at the time, and therefore no loud speakers, theater actors had to come up with ways to amplify their voices using things like funnels and cones. That idea was built upon and improved by other cultures, arriving at the devices we use today.

The nineteenth century made huge strides toward shaping the modern megaphone. It was a time of great inventions. One such invention was the phonograph, by Thomas Edison. Theater folks at the time built upon Edison's ideas to come up with an acoustic version. By mid twentieth century, inventor Henry C. Dalrymple developed and patented the first electric voice amplifier involving a microphone, and technology further refined it.

The megaphone became an accessory to cheerleading in the late 1880s. For the first time, crowds of football spectators got to hear yell leaders loudly, and clearly. One such leader was Princeton's legendary Pep Club member Thomas Peebles, although cheerleading hadn't yet become officially organized. The first so-called cheer "leader" to have projected his voice out to spirited onlookers was University of Minnesota's Johnny Campbell, in 1898. "Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-E-So-Tah!" The University of Minnesota organized the first cheerleading fraternity, and the results were infectious. Other colleges caught on, and in the 1920s women joined the sport of cheerleading. But the men's deep projecting voices aided by the megaphone still prevailed.

By the 1930s, the megaphone was used by men and women alike to excite the crowds. The sport of cheerleading grew along with football, and campuses around the country were expanding their football fields and building giant stadiums like never before. And in 1948, along came a household name in cheerleading, Lawrence "Herkie" Herkimer, who put the sport of cheering on the map by establishing the National Cheerleading Association.

What's in store for the cheer megaphone? As cheerleading evolved as a sport its own, it became less about eliciting audience participation, and more about entertaining spectators with flashy moves and dance routines. But so long as traditional cheerleading stands alongside football, the megaphone will always be at home on the sidelines.

What You Should Know about Buying and Using a Cheer Megaphone

Only use megaphones in cheers when the voice needs to be amplified, and when you or your team want to elicit audience participation. Generally, only one leader should use it while the others perform the routines. Correct use of the cheer megaphone will help you get the most out of it, and the following tips may help.

  1. Stand still when using the megaphone; jumping and moving around can disturb sound quality.
  2. Hold the megaphone toward the crowd for better audibility, and hold it in one direction to prevent words from fading in and out; don't scan the crowd.
  3. Articulate your words clearly so the audience can understand what you're saying; keep the megaphone up to your mouth until every word is completed so your voice and your words don't fade.

A Final Word about Your Cheer Megaphone

Some teams choose to customize their megaphone with their school logo or colors, while others choose to do it themselves using foam stickers, sticky tape, or removable decals. This is nice if you're decorating for a special game or event, such as a fund raiser or holiday. Smaller megaphones are great if you want to equip your entire squad, while the larger one is good for the cheerleader designated to rouse audience participation. Good luck and good cheers.

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