These days, millions of individuals utilize hearing aids every day to be able to hear better. This hasn’t changed, although the technology has certainly evolved quite a bit. Offered in many shapes, sizes, and even colors, the hearing aids of today weigh only a fraction of what they used to. They’re not only more convenient these days, but they offer the user several more advantages, such as the ability to link up to Bluetooth and even clean out background noise. Here we offer a short history of hearing aids and just how far they have come.
Back in the 17th century, something termed the ear trumpet was introduced. ear trumpets were most helpful to those who only had partial hearing loss. They were bulky, cumbersome and only worked to amplify sound in the immediate environment. Visualize an outdated phonograph with the conical sphere and you’ll understand what they looked like.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 many variations built for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet especially designed for the notable painter Joshua Reynolds. This horn-shaped device quite simply just funneled sound into the inner ear.
The hearing devices of the 17th and 18th centuries supplied only very little amplification qualities. When the 19th century rolled around, more possibilities appeared with electrical technologies. In fact, it was the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 that created the advancement leading to electrical transmission of speech. Sparked 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 improve hearing.
Next in line were vacuum tubes, released by Western Electric Co., in New York City in 1920. This company improved upon the technology inherent in Lee De Forest’s finding of the three-component tube just a couple of years earlier. These devices provided not only improved amplification but also improved frequency. The early models were quite large, but the size got pared down not many years later to the size of a compact box secured to a receiver. It was still quite inconvenient and didn’t offer the versatility and comfort of the hearing aids to come.
First Wearable Devices
The first hearing aids that could actually be put on semi-comfortably were constructed 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 attached to the user’s leg. More portable models came out during World War II which presented a more reliable service to the user thanks to printed circuit boards.
Behind-the-ear hearing aids came about 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 better versatility, 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?