A Brief History of Hearing Aids

Hearing aids weren’t always so successful. They went through many versions which posed limitations on the user. From the ear trumpet to vacuum tube devices, technology has advanced throughout the last two centuries. Now they even have the ability to connect to Bluetooth and filter out distracting background noise. Let’s take a look at a brief history of hearing aids and just how much they’ve advanced. With millions of people donning hearing aids every day to hear more clearly in their daily lives, it’s no wonder the history has evolved the way it has. The technology has gone through leaps and bounds, resulting in devices that are now available in many shapes, sizes, and even colors.

Trumpeting towards Innovative Findings

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.

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.

What we Have Today

The new millennium witnessed the emergence of programmable hearing aids for better flexibility, customization and comfort. Today’s hearing aids can seamlessly connect to Bluetooth technology as well as filter out annoying background noise.
To put this into perspective, 90 percent of today’s hearing impaired people wear digital devices. It’s necessary to go back a bit to the more primitive modern iterations that started in 1964 when Zenith Radio made the first behind-the-ear models. Through recent decades, inventions brought to light digital signal-processing chips, hybrid analog-digital models and fully digital models by the end of the 1990’s.

On the Ear

It wasn’t till the late 1930’s that hearing aids that could be worn on the ear with relative comfort got popular. More compact models emerged during World War II for more reliable service to the user thanks to the invention of printed circuit boards. 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.

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.

Thank goodness for today’s lightweight devices!

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