Check out this article in which we’ll examine the evolution of hearing aids throughout three distinct periods and levels of technology in history. Today, millions of people benefit from the use of state of the art hearing aids, but it wasn’t always that way. While now they’re available in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit the unique characteristics of each ear, they have actually through several iterations over the last two centuries. Due to the major leaps in technology experienced by hearing aids over the years, it’s important to track how far hearing aids have come.
As the 18th century approached, they went through even more advancements. As such, several versions were created for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet. This was personally made for the famous painter Joshua Reynolds, featuring a horn-shaped instrument that basically funneled sound into the inner ear. The ear trumpet was invented back in the 17th century, which were beneficial only to those who suffered from a partial hearing impairment. These were large, cumbersome devices that only served to amplify sound within the immediate environment. Just think of an old phonograph with the conical sphere and you’ll get a good mental picture of what these resembled.
These were 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. When the 19th century came about, electrical technologies emerged spurred on by the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. This invention was a catalyst for advancement leading to electrical transmission of speech. Thomas Edison was inspired by this invention and came up with the carbon transmitter for the telephone in 1878.
First Wearable Devices
It wasn’t till the late 1930s that hearing aids that could be worn on the ear with relative comfort got popular. These devices were made by a Chicago electronics manufacturer, featuring a thin wire connected to an earpiece and receiver. However, there was also a battery pack which attached to the user’s leg which posed obvious imitations. More compact models emerged during World War II for more reliable service to the user thanks to the invention of printed circuit boards.
Behind-the-ear models, invented in 1964 by Zenith Radio, featured digital signal-processing chips. Then along came hybrid analog-digital models and then fully digital models by 1996. By the year 2000, programmable hearing aids were on the scene that gave users increased flexibility, customization and comfort. In today’s world, 90 percent of all hearing aids worn by Americans are digital in nature.
Vacuum tubes, put out by Western Electric Co., came next in New York City in 1920. Manufactures built upon the technology that came from Lee De Forest’s finding of the three-component tube years earlier. They offered not only better amplification but also better frequency. However, they were quite large and not very practical. They got smaller as the years wore on, though, until they got to about the size of a small box. The inconvenience of it all still wasn’t very helpful, plus the comfort level was pretty low.
In tracking where hearing aids have come from, it’s interesting to go through the past two centuries to see what changes have been made.