Hearing Aids, a History

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

There are three kinds of individuals in the world: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.

Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot stranger than you may think. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, consequently, been trying to come up with new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.

An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by learning some history about them.

Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years

Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s rather amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also begin appearing once written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).

So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more difficult to treat then). Communication will be a lot harder if you have neglected hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).

So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.

The progression of hearing aid like devices

It’s important to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. Even if we don’t have a published record of precisely what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.

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

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably used this device to amplify sound and lessen the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they give some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prevalent form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling range of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were created. Once again, these were never very effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also permitted better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. The same effect was now possible with less bulky technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies got better, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a substantial reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a smaller package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust 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. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!

History’s most advanced hearing aids

For centuries or more, we have been working on treating hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any point in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.

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.)

Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.


The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Schedule an appointment to see if hearing aids could benefit you.