These days, countless individuals utilize hearing aids each day in order to hear better. This is nothing new, even though the technology has unquestionably evolved quite a bit. Offered in numerous shapes, sizes, and even colors, the hearing aids of today weigh only a fraction of what they used to. They’re not only more versatile these days, but they provide the user plenty more advantages, such as the capability to link up to Bluetooth and even clean out background noise. Here we present a short history of hearing aids and how far they have come.
Over 300 years ago in the 17th century, something labeled as the ear trumpet was invented. ear trumpets were most valuable to those who only had limited hearing problems. They were bulky, awkward 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 Visualize an outdated phonograph with the conical sphere and you’ll understand what they looked like.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 common as the calendar ticked over to the 18th century, with many variants developed for the very wealthy, such as the Reynolds Trumpet custom made for the notable painter Joshua Reynolds. This horn-shaped instrument essentially just funneled sound into the inner ear.
The hearing devices of the 17th and 18th centuries offered only very little amplification qualities. When the 19th century rolled around, more possibilities materialized 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. Spurred 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 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 development of the three-component tube just a couple of years earlier. These devices supplied not only better amplification but also improved frequency. The early models were quite big, but the size was reduced not many years later to the size of a small box secured to a receiver. It was still quite inconvenient and didn’t offer the versatility and level of comfort of the hearing aids to come.
First Wearable Products
The first devices that could actually be used semi-comfortably were made by a Chicago electronics manufacturer in the late 1930s. The hearing aids featured a thin wire joined to an earpiece and receiver, along with a battery pack which attached to the user’s leg. More portable models became available during World War II which provided a more effective 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 hit the market in 1996. By the new millennium, programmable hearing aids were all the craze, allowing for improved 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?