Consider what hearing aids provide the wearer today. The difference is staggering. They certainly providing an unmatched versatility and comfort level compared with old devices. They offer the user lots more advantages, including the ability to connect to Bluetooth and filter out distracting background noise.
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 the way it has. The technology has gone through leaps and bounds, resulting in devices that are now available in many shapes, sizes, and even colors. Devices used to be hard to carry around, weighing several pounds, contrasted with today’s hearing aids which only weigh a few ounces, if that.
Just think of an old phonograph with the conical sphere and you’ll get a good idea of what the ear trumpet looked like. This was invented back in the 17th century, which were beneficial only to those who suffered from a partial hearing impairment. These were large, cumbersome devices that only served to amplify sound within the immediate environment. As the 18th century approached, they went through even more advancements. As such, several versions were created for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet. This was personally made for the famous painter Joshua Reynolds, featuring a horn-shaped instrument that basically funneled sound into the inner ear.
Vacuum tubes, put out by Western Electric Co., came next in New York City in 1920. Manufactures 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. They got smaller as the years wore on, though, until they got to about the size of a small box. The inconvenience of it all still wasn’t very helpful, plus the comfort level was pretty low.
The 17th and 18th centuries brought with them devices that offered only limited amplification qualities. When the 19th century came about, electrical technologies emerged spurred on by the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. This invention was a catalyst 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 boost the basics of the telephone as well as the electrical signal to improve hearing.
First Wearable Devices
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. However, there was also a battery pack which attached to the user’s leg which posed obvious imitations. More compact models emerged during World War II for more reliable service to the user thanks to the invention of printed circuit boards.
Today, most — about 90 percent — of all hearing aids are digital in nature. Models that could be worn behind the ear relatively comfortably were invented in 1964 by Zenith Radio. They featured digital signal-processing chips, followed by hybrid analog-digital models and then fully digital models by 1996. By the year 2000, programmable hearing aids were on the scene that gave users increased flexibility, customization and comfort.