Hearing Aids, a History

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

When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: people who find history to be amazingly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly boring, and people who believe history is full of aliens.

Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot weirder than you might believe. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. People have, as a result, been trying to find new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.

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

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

Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin appearing as soon as written language becomes a thing (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).

So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of awful (particularly when left untreated). Communication will be much more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.

So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage 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 isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.

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

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this kind of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the impacts of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they give some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant form. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these were never very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
  • 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. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The root principle 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 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 feasible. New technologies also permitted better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your pocket or purse, it’s a giant leap! The same impact was now available with less bulky technology thanks to the development of the transistor. As a result of this progress, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies got better, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant decrease in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it wasn’t commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided improved quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and efficient.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these little devices. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!

The best hearing aids in history

For hundreds of years or more, humans have been working on managing hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in the history of humanity. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. A broad range of hearing problems can be addressed.

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

Call us and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!


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.