These days, countless people wear hearing aids each day to be able to hear better. This hasn’t changed, although the technology has certainly advanced significantly. Readily available in numerous 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 provide the user several more advantages, such as the ability to hook up to Bluetooth and even filter out background noise. Here we provide you with a abbreviated history of hearing aids and how far they have come.
Back in the 17th century, something termed the ear trumpet was created. ear trumpets were most effective to those who only had limited hearing loss. They were bulky, awkward and only functioned to amplify sound in the immediate environment. Envision an early phonograph with the conical sphere and you’ll understand what they looked like. They were more common as the calendar ticked over to the 18th century, with many different variations created for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet custom made for the notable painter Joshua Reynolds. This horn-shaped device basically just funneled sound into the inner ear.
The hearing instruments of the 17th and 18th centuries provided only minimal amplification qualities. When the 19th century rolled around, many more opportunities emerged with electrical technologies. In fact, it was the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 that produced 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 augment hearing.
Next up were vacuum tubes, released by Western Electric Co., in New York City in 1920. This company built upon the technology found in Lee De Forest’s discovery of the three-component tube just a few years earlier. These devices provided not only better amplification but also better frequency. The early models were quite big, but the size was reduced not many years later to the size of a compact box attached to a receiver. It was still quite inconvenient and didn’t offer the versatility and level of comfort of the hearing aids to come.
First Wearable Products
The first hearing aids that could actually be worn semi-comfortably were built by a Chicago electronics manufacturer in the late 1930s. It featured a thin wire connected to an earpiece and receiver, along with a battery pack that connected to the user’s leg. More compact models became available during World War II which posed a more secure service to the user thanks to printed circuit boards.
Behind-the-ear hearing aids came about in 1964 by Zenith Radio; digital signal-processing chips, hybrid analog-digital models, and finally fully digital models entered the market in 1996. By the new millennium, programmable hearing aids were all the rage, making it possible for improved versatility, personalization and comfort. Today, 90 percent of all hearing aids are digital, and that number is only expected to grow.