We all know that technology is changing and improving at a rapid rate these days, hearing assistive technology included. But have you ever wondered just how much things have changed, or how many different forms of hearing technology have existed over the centuries? There are quite a few! We’ve highlighted five of the most interesting and unusual below.
The fact that sound can travel through bone was first written about in 1551, but it wasn’t until 1812 that a hearing device was developed around this concept. It was a wooden rod with a narrow end and a wider end, and the speaker and listener each held one end between their teeth.
In 1819, an ear-trumpet manufacturer designed a “hearing throne” for King John VI of Portugal. The throne featured hollow arms through which sound entered, passing into a resonant box under the seat and from there, by tubes, to the king’s ears.
In the 19th century, many people wanted to hide their hearing devices. The acoustic urn was a camouflaged hearing aid. Disguised as a vessel for flowers or fruit, an urn, vase, or basin collected sound, which was then carried to the listener’s ear via tubes connected to the base. (How that was disguised, we’re not sure.)
Aurolese Phones or Acoustic Auricles
We’ve all seen someone cupping their hand behind their ear to try to hear. Using this concept, inventors in the mid-1850s created a pair of “scoops,” metal or wooden sound collectors for around the ears. These were attached to one another by a metal band, worn like a headband, which employed bone conduction in addition to the sound amplification provided by the scoops.
Akouthalon & Acousticon
The Akouthalon, developed in 1898, was the first electronic hearing aid. It had a receiver with battery pack to collect sound, and then transmitted the sound via tubes to the ears. The downside? The receiver/battery pack apparatus was so big, it had to sit on the table. Four years later, the inventor developed a hand-held model, called the Acousticon; it was about the size of a shoebox and could be worn over the shoulder with a strap.
Think these are pretty nifty? There are a lot more. The Washington University School of Medicine, in conjunction with the Bernard Becker Medical Library, has an online exhibit called Deafness in Disguise, which includes more information about these and many more hearing-assistive technologies. The Timeline of Hearing Devices and Early Deaf Education is particularly interesting.
Photo, Acousticon Carbon Hearing Aid Circa 1904-1905, by Joe Haupt from USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.