1928, from deci- + bel (n.).
Progress in science and industry is constantly demanding new terms and one of the latest of these is the word "decibel," coined by telephone engineers to describe the efficiency of telephone circuits. It is a substitute for the phrase "transmission unit." The actual unit decided upon was first called "bel," after the inventor of the telephone. The bel, however, is larger than is needed in practice, and, therefore, a unit one-tenth as large was adopted by engineers and named the decibel. [Popular Mechanics, May 1929]