The History and Evolution of the Hearing Aid

Over say, the last thirty years – since the beginning of the ‘80s, really – technology has evolved at seemingly the speed of light. Take a memory trip back to the early ‘80s, back to the era of Morrissey still being a respectable artist, the amazement of Back to the Future, and the coin-spending frenzy that followed the release of Pac-Man.

Remember what passed as a “mobile phone” in those days? Those things were as big as your head, weighed a tonne and cost about as much as the GDP of a small country. Nowadays, iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones can do more than your computer could a decade ago, and they easily fit in the palm of your hand.

The advancements would be unbelievable to someone who hadn’t experienced them happening over time, yet we take them for granted.

One sector that has definitely benefited greatly from all these advancements is, of course, medicine. We have tiny pacemakers – nanotechnology is soon to be a viable option – and we can also have our lives transformed by the amazing gadget that is the hearing aid.

Such an interesting piece of tech deserves an article detailing its storied history. Here is that article!

In the Beginning…

The early days of the hearing aid date back around 400 years, to the 17th Century. Looking at old records from the time, you can find mention of a device known only as the “metal ear”. It’s doubtful that it actually had any effect, as it was basically a large ear ‘extension’ that you put on the outside of the ear. It supposedly increased the “sound capture area”.

Fast forward to the 19th Century, and you will be able to find the “hearing trumpet”. These quickly became immensely popular all over the British Isles, but they had one rather significant flaw: how well they worked was linked to how large they were. This meant that only the huge ones were truly effective; something that could not be called user-friendly.

Electronic Advances

Siemens began the first mass-production of electric hearing aids in 1913. Sadly, these were still too big for most people – the speaker was carried separately, and the aid itself was “the size of a tall cigar box.”

The invention only took off in the 1930s, after the vacuum tube had been incorporated into designs. These ‘lightweight’ models still weighed half a stone, however…

Digital Designs

The late ‘80s is when we first started to see something resembling what we today know as digital hearing aids, the type you would find at your local branch of Boots hearingcare or other hearing aid providers.

1989 was the year that Nicolet brought out the very first commercially-available digital hearing aid. It was much more portable than prior incarnations, as you attached a transducer to your ear and kept the processor on your person, but it was a commercial failure.

However, Nicolet’s loss was the consumers’ gain – the gap in the market led to the creation of the BTE hearing aid: the behind the ear model that we’ve all come to know and love. And recently, these have only been improved upon: the latest models are practically invisible to other people!