Deafness in Disguise Washington University School of Medicine Becker Medical Library

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Concealed Hearing Devices of the 20th Century

Examples of eyeglass hearing aids, 1950s

The development of the transistor in the late 1940s enabled once-cumbersome hearing aids to be streamlined into single units practical for everyday use. What could be more practical than incorporating a hearing aid – or two – into eyeglasses? The first eyeglass model was introduced in the United States in 1954. By 1959, they accounted for approximately 50% of the market.

In 1952, the hearing aid was the first commercially made product to employ the transistor. The transistor radio was not available to the public until 1954.

Beltone Classic model eyeglass hearing aid
Danavox Royal eyeglass hearing aids

© Courtesy of Beltone Electronics Corporation

© Reprinted with permission from Arnoud Beem

Beltone “Classic,” 1960 Danavox “Royal,” 1960
Beltone introduced their first eyeglass aid in September 1955, the “;Hear-N-See” model. The “Classic” was introduced in 1960 and came with from three to five transistors. Danavox first introduced an eyeglass hearing aid in 1955, the “Lunettes” (Model 559). The Model 600 “Royal” debuted in 1960.
Sonotone Model 400 eyeglass hearing aid
Sonotone Model 400, 1957
This was Sonotone’s first eyeglass hearing aid model. It featured four transistors and automatic gain control (AGC).
Radio hearing aid Radio Hearing Aid
One ingenious design of a camouflaged hearing aid that was possible with the development of the transistor was a radio. As seen here in the photo, a hearing aid is disguised as transistor radio, the 1960s equivalent of today's iPod.

© Reprinted with permission from Arnoud Beem

Acousticon A-100, 1947
Acousticon A-100 hearing aid
This one-piece vacuum tube hearing aid from Acousticon came with an optional radio pickup accessory called the “Radion.”

© Reprinted with permission from Arnoud Beem

“The most important single development which has overcome the handicap of deafness has been the modern hearing aid.”

Moe Bergman, Ed.D., 1956

The behind-the-ear hearing aid (BTE), first introduced in the late 1950s, was an ideal means of concealing a hearing aid – it was worn discreetly behind the ear and underneath the hair, with a custom-made earmold. The BTE incorporated all components of a hearing aid into a single, streamlined unit including the batteries. Within a few years of the introduction of the BTE, the BTE overtook the eyeglass hearing aid model in hearing aid sales in the United States.

Zenith Diplomat, ca. 1956
Zenith “Diplomat,” 1956
Zenith’s first BTE (behind-the-ear) model hearing aid was the Diplomat, introduced in 1956. This four-transistor aid has an external receiver and microphone openings on both sides of the flesh-colored plastic case. This model also was available in light gray. The Diplomat weighed less than an ounce. Advertisements described the Diplomat as “tiny, feather-light, tinted, and contoured to fit snugly and comfortably right at the ear!”
Internal components of a BTE hearing aid
This image shows the internal components of a BTE (behind-the-ear) model.

In-the-ear (ITE) and in the canal (ITC) hearing aids were introduced in the late 1950s and early 1960s and even smaller completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids entered the market in the 1980s and 1990s. These models provided more opportunity for concealment with acoustic benefit for many users.

Dahlberg Model D-10 Magic Ear, 1956 Dahlberg Model D-10 Magic Ear
In June 1955 Dahlberg Electronics introduced the first “so-called” ITE (in-the-ear) hearing aid, the D-10 Miracle Ear. The shell-like Miracle Ear was really worn at the ear, rather than in the ear. In February 1956 Dahlberg Electronics introduced the D-10 Magic Ear, a three-transistor BTE (behind-the-ear) hearing aid.
Otarion ECA-1
Oticon I-11-V
Oticon CITE, 1986

© Eriksholm Collection-Oticon A/S

© Eriksholm Collection-Oticon A/S

Otarion ECA-1, 1961 Oticon Model I-11-V, 1978 Oticon Model I-21, 1987
The ECA-1 (Ear Canal Aid) was Otarion’s first ITC (in-the-canal) hearing aid and was introduced in May 1961. Oticon introduced the ITE (in-the-ear) Model I-11-V, ITE in 1978. The completely-in-the-ear Model I-21 was manufactured by Oticon from 1987 until 1991.
Bernafon Audioflex 300, 1997
Bernafon Audioflex 300, 1997


By 1996, hearing devices housing all hearing aid components completely within a custom-made earmold represented about 80% of all United States hearing aid sales. New features such as directional microphones, flexible digital programming and adaptive filtering provide users with the best of both worlds – an effective hearing aid that is also virtually unnoticeable.

Along with enhanced, customized performance, digital technology has introduced an additional hearing aid component: a remote-control unit used to select from among pre-programmed sound processing options. These units, usually designed to be tucked into a pocket, are also available in a working wristwatch model. In contrast to similar devices of the 1950s, the emphasis is on convenience and performance, rather than concealment.

Phonak Claro system, 2000 Phonak’s Claro system, 2000
Phonak’s Claro system of hearing aids can be remotely controlled by both the SoundPilot and WatchPilot systems. Pictured are a BTE aid (center, bottom) and the hand-held SoundPilot remote control (right) and the WatchPilot remote control (top, center). Both systems remotely control all instrument functions of the hearing aid. The WatchPilot doubles as a Swiss quality wrist-watch.
Songbird Disposable Hearing Aid, 2000 Songbird disposable hearing aid
The Songbird disposable hearing aid model, launched in 2000, was an attempt to bring affordability and convenience to hearing aid users. However, the “one-size-fits-all” approach did not succeed the as the aids were often uncomfortable and resulted in feedback. Songbird Hearing Inc. discontinued sales of the disposable aid at the end of 2004.

In the 1990s, manufacturers began to design hearing aids to be noticed as jeweled adornments and works of art. Hearing aids are made with stainless steel, brightly colored casings, and even encrusted with semi-precious stones.

Contemporary hearing aid featuring leaf design Contemporary hearing aid featuring floral design
Some hearing aids now feature flowers, leaves, and abstract designs.
Contemporary hearing aid featuring abstract design Contemporary hearing aid featuring abstract design

Above images © Laboratorium Formaat/Petra Spigt and Annek Brouwer

Contemporary hearing aid featuring abstract design
Contemporary hearing aid featuring abstract design

Above images courtesy of Nikosonic

Phonak BTE Colored Casings Phonak BTE colored casings
BTE casings are available in a variety of bright colors as shown in this image.

Earmolds are also available in many colors and with whimsical decoration such as polka dots and frogs.

Earmold with frog design
Earmold with decorative design
Earmold with striped design

© Laboratorium Formaat/Petra Spigt and Annek Brouwer

© Reprinted with permission from Arnoud Beem

© Laboratorium Formaat/Petra Spigt and Annek Brouwer

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