Hearing Aid

Taken around 1970, this photo captures a moment of shocked elation when a deaf child first uses a hearing aid.

Jack Bradley snapped the photo of the little boy, Harold Whittles, just after a doctor placed an ear piece in the boy’s left ear.

It took centuries of innovation for this moment to occur. As early as the 13th century, the hard of hearing used ear trumpets first made from a hollowed out animal horn. A more modern version came around in the 18th century, but funneling the sound toward the ear — which this version did — didn’t amplify noise for the user.

The first hearing aides as we think of them today arrived in the early 1900s. Even then, they weren’t exactly user friendly: The device took the form of a bulky box that users had to wear around their necks.

In the 1950s, the invention of the transistor — essentially an on-and-off switch that controls the flow of electricity — dramatically decreased the aides’ size so they could be worn in the ear, just as they are today.

That’s not to say most people use them, though: The Department of Health and Human Services reports that only 20% of those who could benefit from a hearing aid actually use one.

Next, watch a deaf Ugandan teen learn to communicate.

Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman is a writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.
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