Some of the original hearing aid devices included a person using their own hand in a “cupped” position behind their ear. This provided those who were hard of hearing between 7 and 17 dB - meaning it was only helpful for those who had slight-to-mild hearing impairment. Additional rudimentary hearing devices that had been used were an animal’s horns or shell.
Alexander the Great used an animal horn to call and gather huntsmen or soldiers in surrounding areas.
Near the beginning of the 18th century, a speaking trumpet was used to communicate between sea vessels. Specific, historical accounts about the shift from using natural instruments to amplify noise from the speaker and amplifying sounds to the listener continue to be unknown. It could be attributed to innovative individuals who were deaf, or hard of hearing. Researchers believe it’s likely that deaf people who lived during ancient times and in the Middle Ages considered putting a horn’s mouthpiece or even a bugle to their ear in order to amplify sounds.
Hearing Devices from the 17th Century to the 19th Century
There have been written accounts of mechanical hearing instruments from the 1600s. Sir Francis Bacon, an English philosopher, essayist and scientist from the late Renaissance era, recounted a device that helped with hearing and compared the instrument to “ear spectacles”. A description that was published in the Geometria in 1640, Pietro Maria Amiani described a hearing aid device and included mathematical details and utilizing an ear trumpet to help with hearing.
Some people who used these hearing instruments included English painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, English author Harriet Martineau, and composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven.
By the early 19th century, mechanical hearing devices became available for the wider population. In London, companies such as F.C. Rein (founded in 1800) and Thomas Hawksley (founded in 1869) were some of the first known commercial manufacturers of hearing devices. Each of these manufacturers developed a wide range of hearing devices including auricles, conversation tubes, domes, ear cornets and trumpets.
The Acoustic Chair
British aurist and oculist John Harrison Curtis, designed a unique mechanical hearing device known as the Acoustic Chair. Curtis had previously organized the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear in 1816. It was the first hospital that was committed to treating ear diseases.
The Acoustic Chair is essentially an armchair that features a large trumpet on one side that transfers sound to the ear of the person sitting in the chair. Curtis explained that the individual who sits in the chair would be able to clearly hear, while sitting comfortably.
Concealing Early Hearing Devices
Hearing aids have evolved greatly since these rudimentary styles. More discreet hearing aids have become more popular in commercially available devices. For some of the earliest hearing devices, some trumpets or domes featured lace, leather, or ribbons in order to mask their purpose.
One type of trumpet could be partly hidden with the user’s hand. Illustrations were provided to show how to hold the devices in an inconspicuous way.
Many of the innovative mechanical hearing aids that were created in the 19th century were produced with the intention of hiding or disguising them. Some of these devices were designed to be concealed in a user’s beard, pocket, hat, or hair (using a headband). They were also veiled as other items such as binoculars, books, flower vases, handbags, hand held fans, opera glasses, plate holders, umbrellas, and water canteens.
Unfortunately, the hearing devices that were designed mainly for its discreetness were only useful for those who had very mild hearing loss. For example, F.C. Rein’s Aurolese Phone from 1802, looked like a floral designed headband, but could only amplify sounds up to 5 to 10 dB. This is similar to the amount of sound that is amplified from cupping your hand to your ear. The London Dome ear trumpet from 1850, was bulky, cumbersome, and large. There was no way to disguise or hide the device, but it provided an amplification of 10-27 dB for the frequency range that is necessary for speech comprehension. At the time, most people with hearing loss wanted, and were willing to pay for, discreet devices even if it did not provide a lot of benefits to their hearing.
In the 20th century, technological advancements helped create hearing aids that could supply the user with powerful acoustic gain and high quality sound processing. Hearing aid users to this day continue the desire for a hearing aid that is not only discreet and beneficial to them, but is also aesthetically pleasing.
If you, or a loved one, believe you are in need of hearing aids, please contact us at Pure Sound Hearing Aids for a free hearing screening and consultation. We offer a wide selection of hearing aids from top name brands!