When was noise pollution discovered?

In the 1970s, noise pollution emerged as a major environmental issue in developed countries. One of the first studies to bring attention to the problem was conducted by the World Health Organization in 1974. The study found that noise pollution was a major contributor to health problems including heart disease, hypertension, and hearing loss. Since then, many other organizations have also raised awareness about the issue of noise pollution and its negative effects on individuals and society.

In response to these findings, various countries began to enact legislation aimed at reducing noise pollution.

Today, noise pollution remains a significant problem in many parts of the world, particularly in urban areas. Despite efforts to reduce noise pollution, it continues to have a negative impact on the well-being of millions of people worldwide.

Did noise pollution simply appear in the 70s?

Of course not. Noise pollution didn’t just happen overnight. It was a series of events that occurred over a span of more than a century that lead to the term “noise pollution”, which was finally coined in the 1970s.

The industrial revolution

The end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th were prosperous times in many areas. The industrial revolution was changing the way we lived and produced things. During that period of history technological progress seemed the only way to go, and any cost associated with that progress seemed worth paying.

Factories proliferated quickly, sometimes inside, or very close to heavily populated areas. Some of these factories were running 24/7, creating an uninterrupted variety of noises that soon started having an effect on the families living nearby.

On top of that, all the materials and products that were produced in these factories had to be transported. This led to the quick and uncontrolled development of ports and railway infrastructure, which in turn created even more noise. So the sounds of the machines and the constant comings and goings soon became a nuisance that people had to live with on a daily basis.

The private car

In 1908 Ford launched the model T, making private cars somehow affordable for the first time in history.

It goes without saying not every family could afford to buy a car in the early 1900s, but the upper class could, and they saw in this new machine a way to have fun and show their status around town. Even though they were few, seeing motorized vehicles on the streets of big cities started to become the norm.

The number of cars only continued to grow from then on, as production costs decreased. At some point even having multiple cars in one family started to become a common thing, and the streets of cities were flooded with these new machines, which came with the promise of being able to travel distances before unimaginable in short periods of time, but it also brought a new source of noise into our lives, and we are not only talking about their engines, the honking of horns is also an important source of noise pollution, without forgetting about the loud sirens from ambulances, firetrucks, and other emergency services.

Today cars are the main sources of noise pollution in big cities.

Enjoying our free time

As workers fought for their rights and managed to pass laws to protect them against exploitation, people started to have more free time on their hands. The purchasing power of the average American also started to increase. Companies started realizing they need people to sell their products to, and so the American middle class was born.

Powered by the promise of the American dream the middle class thrived during the early and mid-1900s. And with more free time on their hands, they started looking for hobbies and activities.

Generally speaking, hobbies are a great thing, and it is true that hobbies as such are not a great source of noise pollution. However, they can be the source of some of the most annoying noises. As people started learning how to play instruments, or brought TV’s and music players into their homes, coexisting with neighbors started to become a problem. And far from sitting down and talking about it, if their neighbor was playing their records too loud, the answer was often to blast one’s TV volume to cover up the music, creating an even bigger problem.

Discovering the world

When the things we could do in our neighborhood started to seem boring, and the distance we could travel by car was not enough anymore, planes came along.

The first regular commercial flights started in the 1920s, but it was not until after WWII that they became affordable for the middle class. Discovering new places and cultures quickly became a trend, as people started to travel more and more.

But just like cars, planes also bring noise into our lives, both at airports and during the flights themselves. And as the years go by and the amount of air traffic keeps growing, the problem is only getting worse.

Today air traffic is the top three causes of noise pollution in developed countries.

Bringing animals into our homes

At some point, people started bringing animals into their homes. This was nothing new. Humans have been known to live with domesticated animals for over 12 thousand years, however, this custom started to become a problem when we moved from the country to cities and started living in smaller apartments.

Not only apartments are way too small for most animals to live in, but these animals are often left alone for long periods of time every day while their owners work or run errands.

When animals feel lonely they seek attention, and in many cases they do so by producing noises. The barking of dogs has been ranked as the 3rd cause of noise pollution in many major cities in America.


Noise pollution didn’t happen overnight, and there isn’t any single individual, activity, or industry that we can blame for it. It’s a problem that has grown over time, with many parties sharing the blame.

Noise pollution is a very serious and real problem, which has a real impact on both our planet and our health. But, if we become aware of it and start to take it into account as one more variable when we make decisions, we can fight noise pollution and bring it down to the point where future generations might never have to suffer from it.

The good news is that noise pollution effects are mostly reversible. Unlike other types of pollution, which effects we would continue to see for centuries even if the sources were shut down right now, if we can manage to control the sources of noise, we would be able to see the benefits with our own eyes sooner than we think.

Guillermo Carone. Author at Fight for Silence
Hi there! My name is Guillermo Carone, I’m an architect and urbanist by training, and I’ve been on a quest against noise since 2010, when I moved from the calm and quiet Barcelona, to the vibrant and noisy New York City. I have a special interest in how cities evolve and how to keep them a place for society to thrive.

3 responses to “When was noise pollution discovered?”

  1. Gavin says:

    Wondering who was in charge of that study. Who discovered it?

  2. […] has a non-stop background humming noise. This was first discovered in 1973, around the same time awareness about noise pollution started to rise, and it’s known as simply “the hum” (and no, this is not the title of a sci-fi […]

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