Hearing Aids, a History

People using ear horns or, older types of hearing aid devices, during a party.

There are three kinds of people out there: people who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty weird too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying to find new effective ways to manage hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.

An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by learning a bit of history about them.

Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of humanity. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.

Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.

Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.

A timeline of hearing aid-style devices

The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.

But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent format for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d put the small end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and awkward. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Once again, these weren’t very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was developed but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were large, and not exactly wearable. The core idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same impact was now possible with less cumbersome technology as a result of the development of the transistor. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while providing personalized amplification and clearer sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and effective.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective due to this integration with other technologies.

The best hearing aids in history

For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.

So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)

Contact us and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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