What a long way we’ve come. When you consider that hearing aids are worn by millions of people each and every day, it’s amazing to see that hearing aids started off in such a primitive manner. Throughout the years, they have undergone several versions until settling on the modern ones you see in use today. Never before have they been so compact and comfortable, with a versatility and efficiency to match due to such advances in the technology for hearing aids over the last two centuries. That’s why it’s interesting to step back to see how far the technology has actually come, so let’s check out the long yet successful evolution of hearing aids throughout history.
The Earliest Hearing Aids
The earliest hearing devices, which weren’t the best at truly amplifying sound, only resulted in the most basic incremental acoustic improvement to those who experienced hearing impairments. As the very first sound amplifiers, ear trumpets (as they were called) looked exactly as they sounded. Shaped like giant horns, there was no size compatibility across models but they worked by capturing and amplifying sounds through the funneling of those sounds to the inner ear. This gave the user more chance of hearing what was being said but only on the most basic levels. Just as you would expect, these horns were cumbersome to handle.
Carbon Hearing Aids Come Out
Hit the fast forward button to the late 19th century and you have the first true hearing aids in the form of carbon hearing aids – an invention that wouldn’t have been possible without inspiration from Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone invention. This shaped the cornerstone of the world’s first innovative carbon hearing aid, which typically used a carbon microphone along with a magnetic receiver and battery. When sound reached the microphone’s outside, the tiny carbon pieces in the hearing aid would then press against the diaphragm depending on how much sound came out. These pieces moving throughout the diaphragm would react in a fairly similar way to how sound waves work. The result was a lot of interference and low quality sound, though, along with very few frequencies.
Vacuum Tube Hearing Aids are Next Up
While the scale says it weighed seven pounds, the vacuum tube hearing aid was the greatest invention up to this point in time to benefit the hearing-impaired community. They came out just before the true electronic hearing aids did in the 1920s, touting a design that wasn’t immune to Bell Labs’ improvements at a later date. This spurred the invention of the first transistor for use in hearing aids through the use of a transmitter from a telephone to convert sounds that were grouped into electrical signals. These signals would then amplify sound as they moved through the receiver end. Many people were excited about the prospect of being on the brink of hearing aid innovation, even despite the heavy weight of the unit.