These days, millions of individuals utilize hearing aids each day in order to hear better. This has been the case all through history, although the technology has undeniably come a long way. Offered in several shapes, sizes, and even colors, today’s hearing aids only weigh a few ounces when they used to weigh several pounds! They’re not only more versatile these days, but they give the user plenty more advantages, such as the ability to link up to Bluetooth and even separate out background noise. Here we offer a short history of hearing aids and just how far they have come.
Over 300 years ago in the 17th century, something called the ear trumpet was introduced. These were most effective to those who only had limited hearing impairments. They were bulky, awkward and only worked to amplify sound in the immediate environment. Think of an old phonograph with the conical sphere and you’ll understand what they looked like. They were more prevalent as the calendar ticked over to the 18th century, with a wide array of variations created for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet especially designed for the notable painter Joshua Reynolds. This horn-shaped instrument quite simply just funneled sound into the inner ear.
The hearing devices of the 17th and 18th centuries offered only moderate amplification qualities. When the 19th century arrived, many more possibilities emerged with electrical technologies. In fact, it was the development of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 that brought on the advancement leading to electrical transmission of speech. Stimulated by this invention, Thomas Edison invented the carbon transmitter for the telephone in 1878 which improved upon the basics of the telephone and actually boosted the electrical signal to enhance hearing.
Next up were vacuum tubes, put out by Western Electric Co., in New York City in 1920. This company built upon the technology found in Lee De Forest’s development of the three-component tube just a couple of years earlier. These devices offered not only improved amplification but also better frequency. The early models were quite big, but the size got pared down not many years later to the size of a compact box connected to a receiver. It was still rather inconvenient and didn’t offer the versatility and convenience of the hearing aids to come.
First Wearable Products
The first hearing aids that could actually be used semi-comfortably were designed by a Chicago electronics manufacturer in the late 1930s. They featured a thin wire hooked up to an earpiece and receiver, together with a battery pack which clipped to the user’s leg. More portable models came out during World War II which presented a more effective service to the user thanks to printed circuit boards.
Behind-the-ear models came about in 1964 by Zenith Radio; digital signal-processing chips, hybrid analog-digital models, and finally completely digital models entered the market in 1996. By the new millennium, programmable hearing aids were all the craze, allowing for enhanced flexibility, personalization and comfort. Today, 90 percent of all hearing aids are digital, and that number is only expected to grow. The question is, what will the future bring?