What Was The First Electronic Hearing Aid?

Man Holding Hearing Aid

Whilst hearing aids are often assumed to be a single device, there are many different types on the market that cater to different people who need them after having audiology tests to determine the correct device.

Hearing aids can be almost completely invisible, or they can be surgically implanted where they are needed, but whilst modern hearing aids are highly advanced, compact and discreet devices, this was not always the case.

The concept of hearing amplification has existed for nearly four centuries, and the hearing aid as we know it can be traced back to the invention of the telephone.

Before the development of electronics, the only way to help with hearing was by using a device called an ear trumpet. This simple funnel would collect and channel soundwaves and lead them into your ear, which is one of the reasons why many people cup their ears with their hands.

They would be made in various styles designed to be as discreet as a large trumpet could be, with the horn itself hidden in headbands or under somewhat elaborate hairstyles.

However, the invention of the microphone and the telephone in the 1880s inspired inventors to use electronics to try and directly help people with partial hearing loss more discreetly and more effectively than a large horn could.

The breakthrough came from an Alabama native named Miller Rees Hutchison and a device known as the Akouphone. Deeply moved by the story of how his friend Lyman Gould had become deaf thanks to scarlet fever, Mr Hutchison studied engineering and ear anatomy to try and help his friend.

The Akouphone used a carbon transmitter that took a weak audio signal and enhanced it using electricity, similar in basic concept to modern hearing aids.

Whilst initially limited by being very bulky, and the signals it could pick up and amplify were quite limited, it was still considered a breakthrough device and forms the basis for many hearing aids in the century since.