These days, countless individuals utilize hearing aids every day so that they can hear better. This has been the case throughout history, even though the technology has undeniably come a long way. Available in various shapes, sizes, and even colors, today’s hearing aids only weigh a few ounces when they used to weigh several pounds! They’re not only more manageable these days, but they supply the user plenty more advantages, such as the capability to link up to Bluetooth and even separate out background noise. Here we offer a concise history of hearing aids and just how far they have come.
Back in the 17th century, something labeled as the ear trumpet was introduced. ear trumpets were most helpful to those who only had partial hearing problems. They were large, awkward and only worked to amplify sound in the immediate environment. Envision an old-time phonograph with the conical sphere and you’ll understand what they looked like. They were more commonplace as the calendar spilled over to the 18th century, with various versions designed for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet especially designed for the notable painter Joshua Reynolds. This horn-shaped device in essence just funneled sound into the inner ear.
The hearing devices of the 17th and 18th centuries provided only moderate amplification benefits. When the 19th century rolled around, many more opportunities appeared with electrical technologies. In fact, it was the development of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 that brought on the advancement leading to electrical transmission of speech. Stimulated by this invention, Thomas Edison invented the carbon transmitter for the telephone in 1878 which enhanced the basics of the telephone and actually boosted the electrical signal to augment hearing.
Next up were vacuum tubes, put out by Western Electric Co., in New York City in 1920. This company built upon the technology found in Lee De Forest’s development of the three-component tube just a couple of years earlier. These devices supplied not only improved amplification but also better frequency. The early models were quite big, but the size got pared down to the size of a small box attached to a receiver not many years later. It was still very inconvenient and didn’t offer the versatility and convenience of the hearing aids to come.
First Wearable Products
The first hearing aids that could actually be put on semi-comfortably were manufactured by a Chicago electronics manufacturer in the late 1930s. They featured a thin wire fastened to an earpiece and receiver, along with a battery pack which clipped to the user’s leg. More compact models were introduced during World War II which provided a more reliable service to the user thanks to printed circuit boards.
Behind-the-ear models became available in 1964 by Zenith Radio; digital signal-processing chips, hybrid analog-digital models, and finally fully digital models entered the market in 1996. By the start of th new millennium, programmable hearing aids were all the rage, making it possible for expanded flexibility, customization and comfort. Today, 90 percent of all hearing aids are digital, and that number is only expected to grow.