Hearing Aids History


15th century

First evidence for people trying to improve hearing with an external device. The early hearing aids were simply horn shaped objects. These devices collect the voices on their wide side and lead them through a narrowing tube to the narrow side which was located right next to the ear. Those early devices were made of animals’ horns and later out of wood and all sorts of metal.


18th - 19th century

Due to industrial revolution, the hearing aids are more spread. In addition, the mid class is rising, and more people are capable of having the relative expensive hearing aids. The main technology leap is related to the invention of the carbon microphone (1877). The basic ability of the carbon microphone is to translate sounds and voices into electrical signals. This enabled the usage of electronics to amplify the sounds before they are transmitted to the ear. Carbon based microphone pushed the hearing aids a big push forward. Towards the end of the 19th century, you could buy an expensive, portable hearing aid. Typically, it had to be placed on the table and wouldn't help severe hearing loss. 

Two inventors claimed to invent the first carbon microphone. Both Thomas Alva Edison (1847 – 1931) and Emile Berliner (1851 – August 3, 1929) handed their patent application for carbon microphone somewhere in 1877. Eventually court ruled in favor of Edison as the inventor. Another great inventor who straggled with hearing improvements is Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922), highly due to his wife hearing loss. Among all of his inventions (the telephone is the most famous) he contributed great dill to audiology technology progress.

Miller Reese Hutchinson (1876 - 1944), is considered by many to invent the first electronic hearing aid (his partner and he named it Akoulathon). It was available on 1899, you have to place it on a table in order to use it and it was sold for about 400$. 

20th century

Early 20th century

The next improvement in hearing aids ability came on the early days of the 20th century. The vacuum tube (a basic electrical circuit’s building block) was developed to a level that it can be used to amplify signals and yet be small enough. This enabled lots of telecommunications breakthroughs, among them was the hearing aids.  Harvey Fletcher (1884 - 1981), another one that considered by many as the inventor of the hearing aid was the first to implement the vacuum tube in a hearing aid.

Mid 20th century

The world of electronics changed on those years, primarily due to the invention of the solid state transistor (the electronic transistor we know today). This enabled minimizing the different elements of the hearing aid. The microphone, the amplifier and the batteries all became smaller and the hearing aids became more comfortable and wearable. Around the 60’s the hearing aids were small enough to be carried in one piece. Some hearing aids were worn as glasses.

Late 20th century

During the seventies and eighties, hearing aids started using the powerful abilities of DSP (Digital Signal Processing). This is part what makes all of our digital world as we know it today. DSP enables you to manipulate the sounds in ways that used to be considered as science fiction a few decades back. DSP enables you to reduce noises, choose what to amplify and what not to amplify, choose different scenarios for the day to day routine (one for walking in the garden and another for a leaving room full of people) and many other abilities we now take for granted. Moving to smaller parts (both batteries and electronics) shrank the hearing aids even more. They started appearing in the form we know today as behind-the-ear.

Nowadays

Like the rest of the digital world, the hearing aids kept on becoming smaller and smarter. Today you can find amazingly small and complicated hearing aids. CIC (Completely in the canal) and open fit hearing aids are two good examples of how tiny the hearing aid became.

Have a look on one of the early patents by Thomas Edison that pushed the amazing hearing aids’ history on this link.


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