A visual timeline of the evolution of assistive listening devices.

If you’ve ever wondered how hearing aids got their start, we invite you to take an extraordinary journey to explore their fascinating history. It’s a mesmerizing tale of technological advancements that have helped shape the lives of people with hearing loss. Let’s take a step back in time with this look at the history of hearing aids that begins more than 800 years ago.

1200s – 1700s

The use of hearing aids is recorded as early as the 13th century. Those who experienced hearing loss during that time would often use primitive hearing devices made of hollowed-out animal horns to improve their ability to hear.

A modernized ear trumpet was invented much later, in the 18th century, which worked on a similar premise of funneling sound through a narrow tube. The most recognizable brands at the time were the Townsend Trumpet, Reynolds Trumpet, and the Daubeney Trumpet.

1800s – 1900s

The 19th century proved to be a transformative era in the history of hearing aids. Early, F.C. Rein and Son became the first firm to commercially produce several types of hearing aids in London. Most of their early products were non-electric and included the ear trumpet, acoustic urns, and speaking tubes for churches.

As time progressed, other impressively innovative developments came to light, including the first curved behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid in 1836, the binaural conversation tube in 1874, and the Rhodes Audiophone in 1879. By 1885, people with hearing loss had access to yet another innovative assistive listening device – the Duplex Conversation Tube. Designed by Enoch Henry Currier for classroom use, this type of hearing aid allowed users to better hear both their voice and those speaking to them.

The very first electric hearing aid emerged at the very end of the 19th century. After the invention of the telephone, people realized that they were able to hear conversations better over the phone. Then began a series of experiments with telephone technology, which paved the way for carbon hearing aids that exploded in popularity in the 20th century.

1900s – today

Previous centuries of research and advances in hearing aid technology launched the assistive listening device industry into a new and exciting modern era. Beginning in the early 1900s, industry trailblazers released several user-friendly developments such as volume controls, vacuum tube technology, and wearable hearing aids. But it didn’t stop there. Thanks to continual progress throughout this period in history, people with hearing loss had access to many types of hearing aids, directional microphones, and the introduction of cochlear technology.

Today, there are many hearing assistive technologies available that help those who experience hearing loss, including CapTel captioned telephones that show captions during your phone conversations. Even smart phones are helping through the use of specialized apps aimed at improving the listening experience.

The future
Hearing aids continue to improve as new technologies develop. For instance, researchers at Columbia University are currently working on cognitive listening technology that uses both a single audio channel with a mix of speakers, as well as neural signals from the listener. As scientists continue to investigate different listening technologies, there’s no doubt the history of hearing aids will continue to fascinate us all.

Interested in learning more about the latest in hearing loss technology? Join us in attending one of these inspiring hearing loss events this year.

The history of hearing aids dates back over 800 years.

CapTel Captioned Telephone