The History of Hearing Aids

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People don’t really think about it much, but the modern hearing aid is really quite a fascinating piece of technology. Innovations in manufacturing allow hearing aids to become smaller, smarter, and more powerful all the time.  But hearing aids haven’t always been quite so high-tech.
Hearing AidsAgeUK has recently published a web page about the history of hearing aids that provides some quite astonishing information.  Some of the highlights from this more detailed history page include:

  • Ancient Egyptians would use a mixture containing goat urine and bat wings in an attempt to cure hearing loss. These sound like ingredients from a fairytale, but people really used these exotic ingredients in ancient medicine.
  • In the 16th century, people used wooden hearing aids that were carved into the shape of animal ears.  It’s not quite clear why they didn’t want to shape them like human ears. Perhaps it was because they thought only God should be allowed to create human ears, as religion was dominant in Europe in those days.
  • A huge variety of ear trumpets were invented and used between the 17th and 18th centuries.  These were cumbersome devices made from metal that would hardly have been inconspicuous. Certainly people seem to have been a lot less self-conscious about hearing loss in earlier times than appears to be the case today.
  • The telephone was actually invented as a result of attempting to invent better hearing aids. Alexander Graham Bell’s mother and wife were both deaf, and he dedicated his research to finding a “cure” for deafness. The discovery of telephony was simply an accident, and almost never paid off, as at the time, people thought it was impractical except as a novelty.
  • The first electronic hearing aid was invented in 1898 by two American entrepreneurs, and was called an “akoulallion”.  Luckily this name didn’t persist, because it’s not the most natural sounding name in the world.
  • Within two years of the invention of the akoulallion, it’s value fell by over 600%.  The inventors redesigned it to be smaller and more efficient. They also renamed it as the “akouphone” (which is not really much of an improvement, if you think about it).  Even with the drastic reduction in price from $400 to $60, this was still much more than the average person could afford, so these early hearing aids would have been mostly sold to wealthy customers.  Of course the majority of those who needed them would have been poor.
  • Just two years after that, the first wearable hearing aid was invented.  These added the improvement of portability, but were still quite big and conspicuous.
  • It wasn’t until the invention of the transistor in the late 1940s that truly portable hearing aids were created (“truly portable” meaning they not only could be carried around, but could be used in a properly practical way).

This is just a small sample of the many amazing facts about the history of hearing aid technology.  For greater detail and more facts, visit the AgeUK page.

This article is for educative purposes only and not to be substituted for professional medical advice.


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