Evolution of Hearing Aids

If you’ve followed Audibility from the beginning you know that part of our mission has been to help deliver hearing access abroad while creating awesome audio products. We chose to tackle hearing loss because it’s something that’s so necessary for people to execute their basic life tasks, and something that’s so treatable. Because of this, we thought it would be fun to go over a basic history of hearing aids in the United States.

Since the beginning of time, there have always been people who struggle to hear. As a result, we as humans have tried to find ways to remedy the effects of hearing loss. For most of recorded history people used nonelectric means of assisting hearing. If you’re thinking about old cartoons showing people using ram horns or other cone-like devices, you’re not too far off.

Early ear horn. Source

In the late 1800s, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Because people held the receiver up to their ear, which amplified sound, many people with hearing loss preferred to communicate by telephone as opposed to interacting in person.

Thomas Edison, however, did not find communicating to people this way any more helpful than talking to people in person (Thomas Edison had hearing loss). Edison used this frustration and inspiration from the telephone to improve the amplification of sound using an electrical signal.

Early phone by thomas edison

This led Thomas Edison to make the carbon transmitter in 1878. Some people tried to adapt this technology into hearing aids but failed. At best, this technology amplified sound by 15 decibels.

In the 1900s vacuum tubes were invented. Later, Lee De Frost created a three-element tube. As a result, Western Electric Co. in New York is able to make the first hearing aid type device. The product Western Electric Co. is able to create is about the size of a metal filing cabinet and weighs about 100 kg (or 220.462 lbs.). This hearing aid is able to amplify sound by 70 dB and is far more effective than the device Thomas Edison created. The biggest downside to this product is the size and weight. This product was anything but portable.

In 1924, Western Electric Co. came out with a new hearing aid model. This hearing aid was able to fit all of the electronic components in a wooden box and weighed about 4 kg (about 8.82 lbs.). Users had to wear an earpiece that was not particularly aesthetically pleasing. As a result, this led to lots of consumer backlash.

In 1938 Aurex Corp. in Chicago developed the first wearable hearing aid. This hearing aid featured a small earpiece that was wired to an amplifier-receiver a user could clip to their clothing. All of this was connected to a battery pack the user would strap to their leg.

Shortly later in the 1940s, manufactures combined vacuum tubes, circuit boards, and button batteries to make better models of this hearing aid. Batteries, microphones, and amplifiers were eventually combined into a single unit that could fit into a shirt pocket or a woman’s hair.

Advertisement for a vintage Zenith hearing aid

In the 1950s, Otarion Electronics in Chicago invented a hearing aid that placed the electronics on the temple pieces of eyeglasses that connected to the in-ear hearing piece. Advertisements for this hearing aid featured Lee De Forest giving his endorsement! Eventually, other manufacturers caught on to this style of hearing aid glasses.

The 1960s gave way to the more modern style of hearing aids, and by 1964 consumers were able to buy behind the ear style hearing aids that resemble the styles of today.

Throughout the 1980s hearing aid manufacturers began to make digital hearing aids. From 1996–2000 full digital hearing aid models began to roll out. By now, all hearing aids are fully digital.

In present time, users can access very sophisticated digital hearing aids. Modern hearing aids come with a wide variety of features such as Bluetooth for listening to music or the ability to adjust volume as the environmental noise changes. Despite these advancements hearing aid manufactures are still faced with lots of challenges namely finding ways to reduce and filter out background noise.

Modern hearing aid with Bluetooth capabilities

To learn more about Audibility, and how we hope to deliver access to hearing abroad, visit our website at audibilityheadphones.com. Also, stay tuned for our Kickstarter campaign coming soon!

Source: IEEE the Institute

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