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: individuals who find history to be amazingly interesting, people who think history is horribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been trying to come up with new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.

Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.

For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss

Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also start showing up as soon as written language becomes a thing (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).

Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when left untreated). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. When humans were a little more primitive, neglected 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 address hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!

The progression of hearing aid like devices

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

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

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest 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 dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting outside sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant format. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were created. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as effective as the larger versions. 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. This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not exactly wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about 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 purse or pocket sized one. This was because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same effect. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and clearer sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And currently, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!

The best hearing aids in history

Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A wide variety of hearing issues can be addressed.

So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)

Discover 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. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.