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Who Invented the Hearing Aid?

a hearing aid held in a hand

The history of hearing aids is a truly interesting one. From animal horns to modern digital aids, hearing aids have come a long way since their early origins in the 13th century and they’re bound to take leaps and bounds forward in years to come too! To bring you up to speed, here’s a brief history of the hearing aid, with some specific information on the inventor of hearing aids as we know them today.

Early beginnings 

The first known use of hearing aids of any sort dates back to the 13th century, when people who were experiencing hearing loss would use the hollowed-out horns of animals such as cows and rams to improve their hearing. These, of course, are extremely primitive hearing devices, but they remained in use right up to the 18th century.

In the 18th century, we began to develop more modern hearing aids, more in line with the ones we’re familiar with today. During this time, funnel shaped ear trumpets were created. While they didn’t amplify sound, they did help to collect and funnel sounds into the ear’s narrow tube. While they could help to some extent, these early devices were bulky, inconvenient and not the most effective means of helping those with hearing difficulties.

The first electronic hearing aids 

The 19th century saw countless developments around the world. The telephone, electric battery, cameras, steam trains and more were invented in this era, so it’s not all too surprising that the humble hearing aid came on leaps and bounds during this period too! 

As people with hearing loss found that they could hear better through telephone handsets, people began to communicate through the phone more for a better hearing experience. But this wasn’t good enough. In 1870, Thomas Edison – who experienced hearing loss himself – saw significant room for improvement and invented a carbon transmitter for telephones. 

This served to amplify electrical signals within the phone and consequently amplify the volume of sound from the phone. This technology was then used for carbon hearing aids. Though these aids had scratchy sound, limited frequency range, they did prove somewhat effective. Sound could be amplified by 15 decibels, paving the way for technology which could then be applied to hearing aids, which generally amplify sound by 30 decibels or more.

Vacuum tube technology

By the 1920s, hearing aids began using vacuum tubes, which allowed sound to be amplified by up to 70 decibels. This is where we began to get hearing aids that genuinely work and prove effective! The reason for this significant increase in volume can be attributed to vacuum tubes controlling electrical flow much better than carbon. While these devices started out large and bulky, they quickly reduced in size. By 1924, all components of vacuum tube hearing aids could fit in a small wooden box. Users would then hold a receiver attached to this box up to their ear in order to be able to hear well. One problem associated with them is that they amplified all sounds rather than specific sounds that the user wanted to hear.

Pocket sized hearing aids 

By the late 1940s, hearing aids were finally being produced with small scale circuit boards and button sized batteries, making the entire unit pocket sized and much more easily portable. No more bulky devices to lug around!

Discreet hearing aids 

In 1948, Bell Telephone Laboratories invented the transistor. This is essentially a small switch that can control the movement of electricity, starting and stop its flow, which allows us to control the volume of a current. This made multiple volume settings in one device possible! Engineer Norman Krim applied transistor technology to hearing aids and by 1952, had created a smaller and much more discreet hearing aid that could be worn behind the ear or completely inside the ear!

As you can see, the journey to modern day hearing aids has taken a long time and we are consistently progressing still! You’ll notice that multiple names have been mentioned in this article. That’s because the invention of the hearing aid as such, can’t be directly attributed to one individual, unless you are referring to a specific hearing aid. A huge number of people have contributed to the process, continually improving upon and upgrading the hearing aids of their time!

If you’d like to learn more about hearing aids or better understand hearing aids, don’t hesitate to reach out to us here at Audiology Associates! Give us a call today at 707-827-1630!