EXHIBITS: Listen Here

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Science  02 Aug 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5582, pp. 743
DOI: 10.1126/science.297.5582.743c

Today's dainty hearing aids descended from the cumbersome ear trumpets and speaking tubes of the early 1800s. Deafness in Disguise, a new exhibit hosted by the Central Institute for the Deaf and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, traces the evolution of hearing devices in the 19th and 20th centuries, emphasizing the clever camouflage intended to conceal the impairment.

Like computer chips, hearing aids rapidly got smaller and more ingenious. Early in the 1800s, King John VI of Portugal commissioned a throne with a receiver hidden beneath the seat and hollow arms that funneled sound to the royal auditory canal through a discreet earpiece. By the middle of the century, hard-of-hearing Britons could toss aside their ear trumpets and don these stylish aurolesephones—still ungainly, but less conspicuous. Electronic hearing aids appeared in the 20th century, and as the devices got smaller and smaller, it became easier to pass off the receivers as cuff links, watches, and barrettes.


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