Hearing Aids, a History

People using ear horns or, older types of hearing aid devices, during a party.

When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of people: those who find history to be amazingly interesting, individuals who think history is terribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you may think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been finding clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.

Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.

For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss

Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.

So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (especially when neglected). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and loved ones. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).

So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!

A timeline of hearing aid-type devices

It’s relevant to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.

But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they give some reasonable ability to limit distracting sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent form for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). Initially, they were large and burdensome. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were created. Again, these were never very effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not really wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also allowed better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to accomplish the same impact. As a result of this advancement, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a substantial decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully adopted and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the development of digital hearing aid.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.

History’s most advanced hearing aids

For hundreds of years or longer, humans have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. A wide variety of hearing issues can be managed.

So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)

Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.



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.

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