People have been coping with hearing loss since long before the first modern hearing aid was invented. It was often a misunderstood phenomenon, with deaf people presumed “simple” and suffering discrimination.

In the late 16th century, with the work of a Benedictine monk named Pedro Ponce de Leon in teaching the deaf, attitudes began to change. Around the same time, hearing aid designs began to proliferate.

Pre-Electricity: The Acoustic Hearing Aid

Before the rise of electricity, hearing devices were simple acoustic instruments that usually amplified sounds through some form of resonant chamber held up to or inserted in the ear. Animal horn provided basic ear trumpets as early as the 13th century.

From the 17th through the 19th centuries, acoustic hearing aids took on a dazzling variety of forms: among them, the first collapsible ear trumpets produced commercially by Frederick C. Rein in 1800. Rein sold his trumpets, or “auricles,” with headbands that hid them in the user’s hair and made them hands-free for the first time.

Electric Hearing Aids: A Rapid Revolution

The first electric hearing aids, using a carbon microphone, were invented in 1898 by Miller Reese Hutchison and built on the invention of the telephone just over twenty years earlier. The first commercially manufactured electrical units came out in 1913, and vacuum-tube technology debuted in 1920.

This early generation of hearing aids was cumbersome, but miniaturization and new technology began to take hold after World War II. The transistor replaced the vacuum tube starting in 1948, and body-worn hearing aids became commonplace. By the mid-1950s, the first behind-the-ear units were appearing.

The 1970s brought microprocessor technology and multi-channel compression, boosting miniaturization and ushering in digital technology. The evolution of the hearing aid accelerated again with the power of high-speed processors and microcomputers in the 1980s, and again with the first all-digital aids in the 1990s.

The 21st Century: Digital Dominance

Digital hearing aids dominate today’s market, featuring conveniences including programmable and “smart” features and compatibility with many devices through Bluetooth technology. The digital revolution continues rapidly apace, and we can expect hearing aids’ features to multiply as they grow continually smaller.

To keep pace with the latest in hearing aid solutions and technology, contact the experts at Beltone today.

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