A Brief History of Elevator Music

December 5, 2023

Have you ever wondered about the term elevator music to describe the background music heard in stores, while on hold on the phone or in an elevator? Let’s explore this term and what it means to elevator riders.

Where Did Elevator Music Come From? 

Do you ever wonder where that music comes from? And no, it didn’t just appear one day. Elevator music, otherwise known as Muzak, piped music or lift music, is music you hear in an elevator and it’s just over a century old. 

musicWho’s Idea Was Muzak?

George Owen Squier was a soldier, scientist and inventor from Dryden, Michigan. He was a vital part of the group that founded the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps. This organization would eventually become the U.S. Air Force. In September 1908, he became the first military passenger on an airplane, along with the help of the Wright Brothers, who helped secure the purchase of the airplane for the U.S. Army in 1909. 

In 1922 Squier created something called Wired Radio. It was a service that delivered music and Muzak to businesses and subscribers over wires. What is “Muzak” you ask? Well, it’s music you hear in elevators. Have you ever been put on hold? You know that music you hear? That’s Muzak. Originally it was music that you’d have to pay for when you would receive your electric bill. By the 1950s, music was available to listeners for free via the radio and was supported by advertising.

What Is Muzak Supposed to Do? 

The purpose was really quite simple, the idea was to play it to give people a more relaxing experience. It’s music that was piped into factories and businesses that would gradually increase in tempo, volume and pace and it would run in 15-minute increments followed by radio silence. This is a technique called stimulus progression. The idea was to increase productivity, focus and happiness among employees. Squier was interested in the ways music could impact a worker’s performance; the stimulus progression was a way to minimize fatigue and maximize the impact of the music. 

Today, the genre he created can be heard everywhere from the waiting room at the doctor’s office to shopping malls, and of course, elevators.