The course of hearing aid history is a fascinating one, with the true technological advances in the field beginning around the Industrial Age. How Stuff Works has a good article on the history of hearing aids – which is filled with some strange and fascinating oddities along the way. This is a list of the top 10 weirdest hearing aids I found while taking a look through their past.
10. Acoustic fans
Acoustic fans were made of metal were popular among fashionable women in the 1800s. Used to disguise a person’s hearing loss, they were usually held behind the ear to help direct sound into the ears. Or, in the bizarre case of bone conduction fans, they would use the bones of the teeth and skull to direct sound:
|You have to wonder who she thinks she was fooling.|
|It’s good to be the king.|
Acoustic chairs were the hearing device of choice for those royalty in the 18th and 19th centuries who didn’t want anyone to know about their loss – or didn’t care but just wanted to look cool while they lounged. The chair King John VI had (see right) was especially cool – it forced his subjects to kneel before the chair and speak into the animal heads at its arms, which amplified the sound for the king. How intimidating would that be?
8. Massaging devices
Massaging devices purported to restore a person’s hearing by “massaging” their ears. One of them was the Oticon Ear Treatment Device, which massaged the ear drum, trying to stimulate blood flow and the cochlea. Somehow, I doubt it was of much use to the people who bought it. By the way, does the name Oticon sound familiar? The president of the company that manufactured this quack device was instrumental in setting up Oticon A/S, which today is a top hearing aid manufacturer. (They made my aids!)
Eyeglass hearing aids are actually making a comeback! Well, a small one. While doing research for this post I came across Spectacle Hearing Systems, a UK company manufacturing hearing aids built into glasses. I can’t speak for the quality of these hearing aids, but eyeglass aids have been around since the 1950s. Check out some of the styling specs here.
Now this is the kind of hearing device that James Bond ought to have worn if he were deaf. This was a device from the ’50s that was worn on the wrist, like a watch. Only problem is, judging from the advertising photos, it didn’t function as both a watch and a hearing aid. That probably made it embarrassing when somebody asked you for the time.
5. Water canteen
Now we’re getting into ridiculous territory. Here we have a hearing aid disguised as a water canteen. I guess if you’re camping, you don’t want the local wildlife to know about your loss. When else could you wear this thing? According to the Washington University School of Medicine, it was primarily used on horseback. It also functioned solely as a hearing aid, not as a water canteen, so you’d have to carry a real canteen too if you wanted a drink.
4. Beard Receptacle
Just after the water canteen aid on the link above, you can see a device called a “Beard Receptacle.” It was just for the men, of course. It was situated around the chin and hidden by the beard, with parts that stuck in your ears. It all sounds very precarious.
I’ve written about this new hearing device a few times on my blog, most recently here. The Soundbite is worn on your teeth, and conducts sound through your jawbone. It has not yet completed FDA trials, so don’t go rushing out to buy one quite yet.
Instead of buying a new device just for your hearing, why not put an existing device you own to good use? If you happen to own an iPhone, you can try out the soundAMP app, available in the iTunes store. You can use either the built-in microphone or an external microphone. It may not compare to a hearing aid bought from an audiologist, but it might get you by in some situations. Perfect for the people above who’ve moved into the 21st century and are still embarrassed about their loss, and much easier to hide than a fan you have to bite.
1. Ear lobe
And now the #1 weirdest hearing aid ever. I chose this one because it’s the only one on this list that actually involves body modification. That’s right, body modification, and none of that easy surgery either. To get this aid, you have to stretch your earlobe – as though you wanted to wear a gauge in it. And actually, you do. A functional gauge.
I wrote about this hearing aid, too. It’s a concept design from Design Affairs in Germany. Perfect for the stylish 21st century young adult who isn’t interested in acoustic chairs or hiding a hearing aid in their beard.