A Brief History of Hearing Aids

Atlanta Hearing Associates' Blog.

The technology of hearing aids is amazing, having already gone through many iterations, resulting in devices that are now available in many shapes, sizes, and even patterns. They offer the user lots more advantages, including the ability to connect to Bluetooth technology and filter out distracting background noise. Let’s examine a brief history of hearing aids and just how much they’ve advanced.

No longer do these devices weigh seemingly a ton. Rather, today’s hearing aids only weigh a few ounces, making it easier than ever to wear them comfortably. 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 in the way it has.

Vacuum Tubes Emerging

Manufacturers 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.
These indeed got smaller as the years wore on, though, until they got to about the size of a small box. But they weren’t always that small. The inconvenience of it all still wasn’t very helpful, plus the comfort level was pretty low. This leads us to vacuum tubes, put out by Western Electric Co., came next in New York City in 1920.

What are Ear Trumpets?

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 looked like. This was essentially a horn-shaped instrument that funneled sound into the inner ear.

The ear trumpet first took center stage in the 17th century, which were beneficial only to those who suffered from a partial hearing impairment. As the 18th century came about, they went through even more advancements. As such, several versions were created for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet, which was custom designed for the famous painter Joshua Reynolds.

Battery Packs Make an Appearance

These weren’t too versatile but they served a purpose. The next version of devices featured a battery pack which attached to the user’s leg. As you can see, this posed obvious imitations and annoyances. More compact models were on the horizon during World War II for more reliable service to the user thanks to the invention of printed circuit boards. It wasn’t till the late 1930’s 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.

Phones and Hearing Aids?

When the 19th century came about, electrical technologies emerged spurred on by the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. The 17th and 18th centuries brought with them devices that offered only limited amplification qualities. This invention was a jump-start 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. This was designed to improve the workings of the telephone as well as the electrical signal to improve hearing.

Digital Hearing Aids hit in late 90’s

Did you know that most hearing aids, in fact approximately 90 percent, are digital? They emerged in 1996 for the first time. Before this, though, behind-the-ear models came out, 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 all the rage. They still are.

Riding the wave of technology is where we are today, and it’s only expected to grow exponentially.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.