Hearing aids have come a long way since the first attempts at improving hearing. As early as the 13th century, those with hearing loss were using hollowed out horns of animals such as cows and rams as primitive hearing devices. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the more “modern” ear trumpet was invented. Funnel-shaped in design, ear trumpets were man’s first attempt at inventing a device for treating hearing loss.

The invention of the telephone in the 19th century had a tremendous impact on the development of hearing aids. People with hearing loss quickly realized they could hear better through the telephone receiver held up to their ear than they could in person. In 1870 Thomas Edison, who had hearing loss, invented a carbon transmitter for the telephone which amplified the decibel level by about 15 decibels (dB).

Beginning in the 1920s, hearing aids using vacuum tubes were able to increase the sound level by as much as 70 dB. Unfortunately the size was about that of a filing cabinet. By 1924 the size of vacuum tube hearing aids had been reduced so all of the components could fit in a small wooden box, with a receiver that the user held up to the ear.

Smaller, more discreet hearing aids finally got underway in 1948, when Bell Telephone Laboratories invented the transistor. The transistor technology not only enabled hearing aids to be made smaller, they could finally be worn either completely inside or behind the ear. The new hearing aids were so popular and successful that over 200,000 transistor hearing aids were sold in 1953 alone.

By the year 2000, hearing aids had the ability to be programmed, allowing for user customization. By 2005 digital hearing aids represented about 80 percent of the hearing aid market. Today’s hearing aids can be fine-tuned and customized to an individual’s hearing needs.

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