Deafness in Disguise Washington University School of Medicine Becker Medical Library

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Marketing of Hearing Devices

The 1950s was the golden era in the marketing of hearing devices. Marketing for hearing aids was focused on dispelling the perception of bulky hearing aids for the estimated six million hearing impaired individuals in the United States. With the technological advancement of the transistor in the late 1940s and the subsequent miniaturization of batteries, hearing aids became smaller and more powerful – enabling many hearing impaired individuals to potentially benefit from the newer hearing aids.

Sonotone advertisement from the 1950s This advertisement from Sonotone shows the evolution of hearing styles from the 1850s to the 1950s.

Courtesy of Sonotone

Size was heavily emphasized in marketing of hearing devices to show the ease of use and portability of the new hearing aids. Manufacturers used everyday items such as watches, keys, matches, rulers and cigarettes for size comparison.

Maico Top-Secret advertisement
The Maico “Top-Secret” featured a top-placed, recessed microphone that would not come in contact with clothing. Introduced in 1951, the “Top-Secret” was “so tiny that it lies in your palm – scarcely larger than a watch – so easy to tuck away that you can forget all about it.”

Beltone Harmony Mono-Pac advertisement

Courtesy Beltone Electronics Corporation

Beltone introduced the Harmony Mono-Pac in 1946. The advertising copy stated “Everything in one tiny unit, about 1/3 size and weight of old-style hearing aids – scarcely larger than a pack of cards.”

Zenith Royal advertisement

Courtesy of Zenith Electronics Corporation

The Zenith “Royal” was introduced in 1951 and retailed for just $75.00. The aid was “tiny, light weight, in beautiful golden finish.”
Micronic Model 202 advertisement
The Micronic Model 202 was advertised as the “smallest and lightest hearing aid on the market today” when it was introduced in 1948. This ad compared the aid to a pack of cigarettes. The Micronic Model 202 was only two inches wide, four inches long, and three-quarter inch “slim.”

Paravox 'Xtra-Thin hearing aid advertisement
The Paravox ’Xtra-Thin debuted in 1946 as “the thinnest one-case (metal), one-cord, vacuum-tube hearing aid, using the most economical batteries, the ‘Eveready’ ‘Mini-Max,’ and the only internal-type plastic chassis.”
Sonotone Model 900 advertisement

Courtesy of Sonotone

The Sonotone miniature “All-in-One” Model 900 debuted in late 1947. The promotional copy stated that the 900 was “so small and feather-light it’s no more trouble to wear than your wristwatch.”

Otarion Whisperwate advertisement
The “Whisperwate” from Otarion came on the market in 1950 with the “revolutionary new Tone-O-matic control.” The Whisperwate was Otarion’s smallest aid to date, not much larger than a book of matches and weighing less than three and one-half ounces with the batteries.
View an Object VR movie of the Whisperwate

Radioear Zephyr advertisement

Courtesy of Radioear (in business since 1924)

Radioear’s Model 82 “Zephyr” debuted in 1952 with its “ultra-tiny case.” Advertisements emphasized that the aid was “much smaller than a man’s pocket-ware” and “even tinier than a lady’s handbag accessories.”

“Smaller than your fondest expectations . . .”

— Otarion “Whisperwate” promotional copy, 1950

The human hand was a great means of demonstrating size comparison.

Advertisement for Beltone Monopac L, 1952

Courtesy Beltone Electronics Corporation

Advertisement for the Beltone Monopac L (Lyric), 1952

Advertisement for the Paravox Top Twin Tone hearing aid
Advertisement for the Paravox Top Twin Tone hearing aid, 1950

Publicity photo for the Sonotone Model 222 hearing aid, 1957

Courtesy of Sonotone

Publicity photo for the Sonotone Model 222, 1957
“Amazing Hearing Aid Progress” was the headline for the Sonotone press release: “Here’s the difference between the new Sonotone ‘222’ – worn entirely in the ear – and a hearing aid of only 12 years ago. The 1945 model (right) weighed 20 ounces as worn. The large transmitter was worn on the body and a thick cord led to a receiver in the ear. External batteries were strapped to the body or legs and connected to the transmitter by another cord. The Sonotone ‘222’ (left) is 40 times lighter. It weighs only half an ounce with battery. It’s worn entirely in the ear by men and women.”
Beltone publicity photo

Courtesy Beltone Electronics Corporation

Publicity photo from Beltone Electronics Corporation

Advertisement for the Otarion Whisperwate hearing aid
Advertisement for the Otarion “Whisperwate” hearing aid, 1950

Advertisement for the Dahlberg Jr. hearing aid
Advertisement for the Dahlberg Jr. (Model D-2) hearing aid, 1951

And if using everyday objects did not help with size comparison, these advertising inserts based on actual sizes of hearing aids did the trick.

Hearing Aid promotional brochures Micronic Mercury hearing aid promotional brochure Rochester Miniature hearing aid promotional brochure Gem Ear Model 70 promotional brochure Promotional card for the Sonotone Model 940 hearing aid Promotional card for the Sonotone Model 910 hearing aid Zenith Royal promotional brochure Microtone Classic hearing aid promotional brochure

Promotional brochures courtesy of Sonotone and Zenith Electronics Corporation

Names of hearing aid models reflected the size theme with names such as “Hidette,” “Secrette,” “Invisible Ear,” “Phantom,” “Midget,” “Hidden Ear,” “Unseen Ear,” “Thumbelina,” “Veri-Small,” and “Hide-A-Way.”

“It has not been many years since deafness and impairment of hearing occasioned ridicule and derisive laughter. The use of the old-fashioned trumpet provoked amusement, and some regarded the condition as a prelude to imbecility or senility. Therefore, it is little wonder that manufacturers of hearing aids today, bent on marketing their wares, make use of advertising with claims, sometimes implicit, often explicit, that ‘nothing shows,’ ‘that “one’s hearing is hidden,” ’ and that nothing is carried around that will reveal a handicapping hearing loss.”

— Council on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 1951

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