Today, countless individuals utilize hearing aids every day to be able to hear better. This is nothing new, even though the technology has undeniably evolved quite a bit. Readily available in numerous 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 convenient these days, but they give the user several more advantages, such as the capability to link up to Bluetooth and even filter out background noise. Here we present a concise history of hearing aids and just how far they have come.
Back in the 17th century, something termed the ear trumpet was created. ear trumpets were most helpful to those who only had limited hearing problems. They were large, awkward and only functioned to amplify sound in the immediate environment. Think of an outdated phonograph with the conical sphere and you’ll understand what they looked like. They were more common as the calendar spilled over to the 18th century, with numerous variants designed for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet especially designed for the famous painter Joshua Reynolds. This horn-shaped device basically just funneled sound into the inner ear.
The hearing devices of the 17th and 18th centuries supplied only limited amplification qualities. When the 19th century rolled around, additional possibilities materialized with electrical technologies. In fact, it was the development of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 that introduced the advancement leading to electrical transmission of speech. Spurred by this invention, Thomas Edison invented the carbon transmitter for the telephone in 1878 which improved upon the basics of the telephone and actually boosted the electrical signal to greatly enhance hearing.
Next up were vacuum tubes, released by Western Electric Co., in New York City in 1920. This company built upon the technology found in Lee De Forest’s discovery of the three-component tube just a few years earlier. These devices offered not only better amplification but also better frequency. The early models were quite big, but the size was reduced 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 worn semi-comfortably were developed by a Chicago electronics manufacturer in the late 1930s. The hearing aids featured a thin wire fastened to an earpiece and receiver, along with a battery pack which connected to the user’s leg. More compact models were introduced during World War II which presented a more secure service to the user thanks to printed circuit boards.
Behind-the-ear hearing aids 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 21st century, programmable hearing aids were all the craze, providing for extended flexibility, customization and comfort. Today, 90 percent of all hearing aids are digital, and that number is only expected to grow. What will be the next development?