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A brief history of hearing aids

What are hearing aids and how have they evolved over the centuries from amplification devices into the modern hearing aids we know today.

Hearing aids of the 1600s & 1700s

Modern hearing aids are small in size, but they didn’t start out that way. During the 1600s and 1700s, hearing aid “trumpets” were popular. Wide at one end to gather sound and narrow at the other end to direct amplified sound into the ear, early hearing aid trumpets were fashioned from animal horn, sea shell, and glass. Later, common metals such as copper and brass were used. 

Trumpet-style hearing aids were shaped in various styles, depending on customer preference and degree of hearing loss. Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the more notable users of hearing aid trumpets.

Also during the 1700s, “bone conduction” was discovered. This process transmits sound vibrations through the skull to the brain. Small fan-shaped devices were placed behind the ears to collect sound wave vibrations and direct them through the small bones behind the ear.
 


Hearing aids of the 1800s

During the 1800s, efforts to conceal hearing aids began. Though still much larger than modern hearing aids, these old-fashioned hearing aids were designed to be decorative accessories and integrated into collars, head wear, bouffant hairstyles and clothing. They were sometimes covered in flesh-colored or hair-colored enamel or hidden in full beards. 

Members of royalty had hearing aids built right into their thrones. Special tubes were incorporated into the arm rests to collect the voices coming from visitors kneeling before the throne. The voices were channeled into a special echo chamber and amplified. The sound then emerged from openings near the monarch's head, with no one the wiser.

Also in the 1800s, ear tubes were introduced. One end was held to the speaker's mouth and the other end placed directly to the listener's ear. Not very subtle, but quite effective.
 


Hearing aids of the 1900s

In the early 1900s, the advent of electricity coupled with Alexander Graham Bell's work on the telephone ushered in a “new generation” of hearing aids that electronically amplified sound with a carbon microphone and a battery. 
Worn around the neck, these hearing aids were cumbersome boxes containing visible wires and a heavy battery that lasted only a few hours. Sometimes even heftier “battery packs” were worn on the body to extend the hearing aid's life. Luckily, battery miniaturization soon arrived, drastically reducing hearing aid size. 

In the 1950s, the transistor was invented and transformed hearing aid technology completely. A transistor is simply a switch with two settings: on or off. By combining multiple transistors, you get more combinations of on/off switches, which leads to an increased number of functions. Transistors were actually used in hearing aids two years before they were used in transistor radios.

Making transistors from silicon allowed early hearing aid designers to reduce their size. First, they became “body aids”, and then ear-friendly instruments worn behind the ear, in the ear shell, and ultimately, within the ear canal.

By the mid-1990s, digital hearing aid technology ruled. Digital circuitry allowed sound to be amplified, reduced, filtered, and directed as needed. Hearing aid programs could be customized to a user's lifestyle – soft amplification for quiet home settings, targeted amplification of voices in restaurants, diminished wind noise on the golf course, and so on. Digital programming even helped eliminate feedback!

See how this technology is implemented in the hearing aids of today.  
 


Modern hearing aids

Today's 21st century hearing aids are smaller, lighter and more powerful than ever. They can fit on the tip of a finger and are virtually invisible when worn. They can “intelligently” adapt to changing surroundings as people move through their day. 

Our latest technology allows users to stream sound wirelessly from telephones, televisions, stereos, and computers. Modern hearing aids are coated with microscopic protective shields that reduce maintenance and increase their life span, and some have rechargeable batteries making them even more convenient.

See the latest technology in action in our Beltone hearing solutions

 

Personalized hearing care

Thanks to technological advances, you no longer have to hide your hearing aid in your beard or carry their battery around your neck. Hearing aids have become smaller and more convenient than ever. Plus, we not have hearing care professionals who are experts in hearing care and Beltone hearing aids. Come in to your local Beltone and talk to a hearing care professional about your options.

Find your local Beltone center

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Learn more about Beltone personalized hearing care

Another modern marvel: the ability to test your hearing online 

See our most modern hearing aid: Beltone Amaze