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The History of Hearing Aids and Today’s Technology

Our sense of hearing allows for so much. For many people, however, hearing is limited and hearing loss has been recorded for hundreds of years, so it is not just today’s loud concerts that have caused issues. Hearing loss can be a consequence of many different things including genetic causes, complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, excessive noise, or aging. According to the World Health Organization, around 466 million people around the world have disabling hearing loss. That’s why here at Mission Hearing, we take it upon ourselves to dive into the latest technology and techniques that help people regain their hearing as much as possible. We thought we’d take a look at the evolution of this technology, how hearing aids came to be, and some of today’s leading innovations. 

The journey of the hearing aid is a fascinating one, as it covers a very long time span and goes through many ups and downs, revisions, improvements. A lot of ingenious engineering had to happen to make the portable and intelligent devices we have today. 

So let’s take it all the way back…

Let’s go back to the world before the telephone. I know, it’s hard to imagine, but it was, in fact, the creation of the telephone that also kickstarted the world of hearing aids. So before all that, the first hearing aids took the form of ear trumpets. These devices look like what they sound. Even around the 13th or 14th century, those with hearing loss would use hollowed-out horns of animals such as cows or rams as their hearing devices.  A few hundred years later, around the 18th century, the ear trumpet was improved upon. The shape and materials were done to improve the funneling of sound. Yes, because these early hearing aids could not necessarily ‘amplify’ sound, rather instead they would collect it and funnel it. They weren’t the greatest option but they were the only option for a while, so people stuck with it. 

Then, electricity and the telephone came along and things were changed. Alexander Bell really revolutionized the world of hearing with his invention of the telephone. When people with hearing loss would hold the telephone up to their ear, they realized they could hear better and this observation led to years of research and development of better hearing devices. Thomas Edison, who himself experienced hearing loss, got busy inventing something better: he created a carbon transmitter for the telephone that amplified the electrical signal and increased the decibel level. This was the initial invention that would carve the path for carbon hearing aids. 

In 1902, Miller Reese Hutchingson invented the first wearable carbon hearing aid for the U.S market. This type of hearing aid consisted of a microphone and magnetic receiver, battery, and connecting cables. This type of hearing aid was then replaced by vacuum tube technology. 

The Vacuum-tube Era

This was technology developed around the 1920s that allowed to turn speech into electric signals and then the signal itself was amplified. These were able to increase the sound level by as much as 70 dB. These vacuum tubes were able to control the flow of electricity better than their carbon counterparts. Just like the early computers, however, these early vacuum-tube hearing aids were quite large and bulky. It wasn’t until 1938 that a company called Aurex introduced the first wearable hearing aid. 

After World War II, as many veterans came back with hearing loss, there was the production of hearing aids with circuit boards and small button-sized batteries. This made it easier for every component to be combined into one portable, pocket-sized unit. It wasn’t long after that Bell Telephone Laboratories invented transistors. This is a switch that can control the movement of electrons and electricity. One nifty inventor working for Raytheon Company saw the possibility of this transistor technology to be applied in portable hearing aids. 

The first hearing aid that was worn almost entirely in the ear was invented in the 1950s by Otarion Electronics. Their approach allowed for the electronics to be embedded in the temple pieces of eyeglasses. Then in the late 20th century, there was the move from analog to digital. Zenith Radio created a version where the microphone was small enough and went into the ear and was simultaneously clipped to an amplifier and battery. Even as early as twenty years ago, in the year 2000, hearing aids had the ability to be programmed. 

Trust In Your Hearing and Get the Latest Technology and Hearing Aids 

The technological journey of the hearing aid is one that begins with the cartoonish hearing trumpets to the sophisticated and intelligent devices we have today. Mission Hearing is dedicated to working on and learning new and exciting technologies that help people enjoy the sounds of the world.  Today, many hearing aids are ‘smart devices,’ meaning that they could adapt to various listening situations and volumes. And while they are not perfect, the technology is working towards perfection at every step. You are now able to recharge your device easily and take it with you anywhere. Call us today and see how this technology can help you with a life of better hearing. 


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