With 17 percent of Americans experiencing hearing loss with the need to wear some type of hearing device, it’s no wonder technology has gone through so many evolutions. They are made in a variety of shapes and sizes, accommodating everyone young and old. As the decades have gone by, the devices have become smaller and more comfortable for each wearer, thanks to the growth in technology. Never has this growth been felt so much than in the past two centuries. It’s interesting to note how far we’ve come in the technology that has led to the latest hearing devices.

The Very First Hearing Aids

Offering a primitive form of hearing assistance, the ear trumpet was first created for the widespread use of the hearing impaired community. Although they weren’t very uniform in size, they were all shaped like horns whose job it was to capture sound from close by. Working by funneling this sound into the inner ear, the hope was that the user could hear slightly better. They weren’t so great with sound amplification, though, and only provided the slightest incremental acoustic improvement.

Along Came Carbon Hearing Aids

Thanks to inspiration from Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone, the late 19th century brought the emergence of carbon hearing aids. These devices worked from a carbon microphone working in allegiance with a magnetic receiver as well as battery. When sound struck the outside of the microphone, carbon pieces in the hearing aid pressed against the diaphragm to bring on sound. These pieces, as they moved through the diaphragm, worked similarly to sound waves but the end result was less than desired. From low-quality sound to few frequencies due to the presence of carbon, these devices presented little benefit to those with severe hearing impairments.

Vacuum Tube Hearing Aids Emerged

Next up were tube hearing aids in the 1920s, featuring a design that Bell Labs later made improvements on. These were the precursors to the first electronic hearing aids, using transistors to operate hearing aids. A transmitter from a telephone converted sounds and grouped them into electrical signals to amplify sound that moved through the receiver’s end, becoming one of the first portable hearing aids as part of the electronic hearing aid design. The device’s weight of seven pounds didn’t detract from the fact that investors and the hearing impaired were excited about the benefits offered by this state of the art technology.