Hearing Aids, a History

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

There are three kinds of people 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 mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.

The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you may think. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Consequently, people have been exploring clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.

Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should use them more often.

Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also begin popping up 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 harder to treat then). Communication will be a lot harder if you have neglected hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and family members. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been able to detect danger.

So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!

The progression of hearing aid like devices

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

Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and reduce the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more easily moved 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 most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent format for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). Initially, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the bigger versions. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not exactly wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same impact. Because of this advancement, people could conveniently bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. 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. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it wasn’t available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while providing personalized amplification and better sound quality. 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 innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.

The best hearing aids in history

For hundreds of years or longer, humans have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any point in the history of humanity. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more popular than ever. They can help with a larger number of hearing problems.

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

Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.


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.