Hearing aids have evolved greatly through the centuries, but their basic purpose has been the same – to amplify sound for those with hearing impairment. From the unsightly, rudimentary ear trumpet to today’s nearly invisible digital devices, hearing aids have come a long way.


The history of the hearing aid can be divided into different periods, beginning in the 17th century.


  • The Acoustic Era:

Primitive instruments, such as horn-shaped devices called “ear trumpets”, enormous and bulky with a large, open piece at one end to collect sound, tapering into a narrow tube to funnel sound into one’s ear. These first hearing aids, while ineffective, sparked interest in innovation that have made today’s devices possible.


  • The Electronic Era:

Through Ben Franklin’s discovery of electricity and the invention of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, significant changes erupted in the world of hearing aids. In 1920, New York City’s Western Electric Company produced the first electrical hearing aid, amplifying sound by up to 70dB, but at 200 pounds was difficult to transport. Four years later, they improved their design with an 8 pound portable unit, with wooden box that contained the electrical components and a receiver meant to be held to the user’s ear.


  • The Vacuum Tube Era:

The first hearing aid using a vacuum tube, called the Vactuphone, was invented by Hanson in 1920 and produced by the Western Electric Company. A wearable vacuum tube hearing aid wasn’t available until the late 1930s. The evolution continued with smaller batteries and smaller devices. In 1946, Radioear created a wearable vacuum tube hearing aid with a built-in telephone pick-up coil, or a “telecoil.” A lot of progress was made during this time period.


  • The Transistor Era:

Bell Laboratories developed transistors in 1948, leading to major improvements in hearing aid technology by the reduction in their size and need for battery power. One major drawback was the moisture from the ear would wreak havoc on the transistor, causing it to fail within weeks. Finding increasingly effective means of improving this style of hearing aid took place over the next two decades bringing us to the 1960s, and the advent of the early digital hearing aids.


  • The Digital Era:

In the early 1960s, Bell Telephone Laboratories developed a process for creating both speech and audio signals on a large mainframe computer. Although slow and impractical, this was an important first step in the evolution of the digital technology. The first commercial digital hearing aid was created by the Nicolet Corporation in 1987, followed in 1989 by the behind-the-ear (BTE) digital hearing aid.


Digital hearing aid technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. At HearWell Audiology, we stay up-to-date with the latest developments and offer state-of-the-art hearing aids from the best manufacturers in the industry.