I can't tell you how many times I would've had to have said What? if I didn't have my hearing aids.

LESLIE NIELSEN (1926-2010)

Hearing Devices

Hearing Aids

Conversation tubes were introduced in the 1600s to allow courting Puritan couples to have private conversations. It was socially unacceptable for them to sit too near to or touch each other, so this afforded them some intimacy.
In 1800 a man called Frederick Rein was the first commercial producer of hearing aids, such as ear trumpets. In 1819 he was commissioned to make a ‘acoustic throne’ for King João of Portugal, who was losing his hearing [image]. Subjects knelt and spoke into the hollowed-out arms, which acted as receivers, carrying sound through a tube that looped behind him and delivered it into his ear.
Many imaginative hearing aids were invented in the 19th century for those who wanted to conceal their hearing loss. They included

  • The beard receptacle, a tube that looped around the ears and clung to the beard, with the receiver at the bottom below the chin
  • Acoustic canes and umbrellas, which you subtly held up next to your ear when you needed to use them as a hearing aid
  • A tabletop sound receptacle disguised as a vase with flowers in it, but attached to a tube that ran under the tablecloth and up to the user’s ear.

String Phone

About 1300 years ago the Chiumu people of Peru attached a piece of string between two gourds and thus built the world’s first known telephone. It was exactly like the modern day baked-bean-tin-on-a-string that children play with today.

Anthropologists believe it was used by elites, perhaps so that a courtier-like assistant who was forbidden face-to-face contact with a social superior could speak to him from a different room.


The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.


The man credited with creating the stethoscope, was a young French doctor called René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781-1826). When he was called upon to examine a fat female patient with heart problems in 1816, he was too embarrassed to perform immediate auscultation, i.e. put his ear to her chest. He asked for a quire of paper which he rolled up into a tube. Placing one end of the tube against the patient's chest and the other to his ear he was able to hear her heart clearly. Thus the stethoscope was born although he called it Le Cylindre.

In 1959, about 50% of all transistor hearing aids were made as hearing glasses. Even people with perfect eyesight wore them.

The first electric hearing aid was created in 1898.

Pinard Horn

A Pinard horn is used to listen to the foetal heartbeat. The midwife places the horn's wide end against a pregnant woman's belly and listens through the other end. Invented by French obstetrician, Adolphe Pinard, in the 19th century, they are still used today.

The most common cause of hearing loss is exposure to excessively loud noises, 85 decibels or higher.