A Brief History of Hearing Aids

Blogging about hearing lossWhen looking at how hearing aids are now, it’s necessary to compare them with their primitive beginnings two centuries ago. Starting with the ear trumpet, going right through to carbon hearing aids, these devices haven’t always been so streamlined and efficient. Let’s discuss the evolution of hearing aids throughout history. It’s no wonder that all that research has resulted in modern hearing aids worn by millions of people today, with products available in many shapes and sizes to fit the unique characteristics of each ear.

Vacuum Tubes Were Revolutionary Yet Cumbersome

Vacuum tubes were all the rage in 1920. Western Electric Co. from New York City made some strides in hearing aid technology stemming from Lee De Forest’s finding of the three-component tube years earlier. Their benefits were two-fold: amplification but frequency control. Unfortunately, they were too big and impractical to do much good. Even though they were pared down to the size of a small box eventually, but they were still quite inconvenient.

Telephone Invention = New Frontiers

When the 19th century ticked over, electrical technologies emerged spurred on by the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. This invention spurred advancement leading to electrical transmission of speech. Thomas Edison, inspired by this invention, created the carbon transmitter for the telephone in 1878 — designed to boost the basics of the telephone as well as the electrical signal to improve hearing. The 17th and 18th centuries brought with them devices that offered only limited amplification qualities.

On the Ear

Enter the 1930s, when hearing aids that could be worn on the ear with relative comfort got popular. These devices, made by a Chicago electronics manufacturer, were comprised of an earpiece and receiver connected by a thin wire, with a battery pack that attached to the user’s leg. More compact models emerged during World War II for more reliable service to the user thanks to the invention of printed circuit boards.

Modern Progressions

By the year 2000, programmable hearing aids were on the scene that gave users increased flexibility, customization and comfort. Today, most — about 90 percent — of all hearing aids are digital in composition. But you need to rewind to 1964 to see when the very first behind-the-ear models were invented. This distinction goes to Zenith Radio. From there, advancements were made in digital signal-processing chips, hybrid analog-digital models and digital models by 1996.

Before Hearing Aids

Ear trumpets, invented back in the 17th century, only really helped those who suffered from a partial hearing impairment. They were often made for the filthy rich. Take the Reynolds Trumpet, for example. It was custom designed for Joshua Reynolds, a famous painter of his time. The ear trumpet is a horn-shaped instrument that is designed to direct sound into the inner ear. They were very big and weren’t very mobile at all. Add to that the fact that they didn’t so much to amplify sound – only slightly within the immediate environment.
In short, we have seen progressive advancements in hearing aids the likes of which are unrivaled in history.

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