Hugh Hetherington Hearing Aid Museum
Hugh Hetherington Hearing Aid Museum

The Hearing Aid Museum

Hearing Aids of all types—Ear Trumpets, Carbon Hearing Aids, Vacuum Tube Hearing Aids, Transistor Hearing Aids, Body Hearing Aids, Eyeglass Hearing Aids and much more!

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Ear Trumpets (Ear Horns)—General Information

Ear Trumpets (Ear Horns)—General Information

Information on the development of ear trumpets or ear horns is now largely lost to antiquity. Early references are few and far between and many of these have been cited by Berger (1970).¹

Perhaps the earliest use of hearing assistance was the cupped hand behind the ear. This is still an effective way of increasing the sound to the ear. In fact, just cupping your hand behind your ear can give you a 12 dB boost in volume at 1,000 Hz, and somewhat less at 2,000 to 3,000 Hz where we hear much speech.

The general theory behind ear trumpets is to capture more sound and to provide some directionality towards the wanted sounds, while at the same time sheltering the ear from the unwanted background sounds. This is not much different from what modern digital hearing aids attempt.

 Ear trumpets were most effective when used close up with the person speaking directly into the opening. By necessity, they could also be used to listen to sounds from a distance, such as a lecture or concert, but naturally suffered from the same limitations as older modern hearing aids. For example, they would pick up more background and environmental sounds.

Ear trumpets came in many shapes and sizes as you can see from the pictures in the gallery. Modern references to hearing trumpets really begin at the beginning of the 19th century, and there were a number of hearing aid manufacturers extant throughout the century.

You may be surprised to learn that hearing trumpets remained the only viable form of assistance to hard of hearing people throughout the first two decades of the 20th century since the early electrical (carbon) hearing aids were not terribly effective and were slow to catch on.

Early manufacturers of note include, F. C. Rein of London, established in 1800, T. Hawksley Ltd. of London, established in 1869, and G. P. Pilling & Sons of Philadelphia, established in 1814. In fact, the earliest ear trumpet in the collection is signed F. C. Rein, Inventor, 108 Strand, London. As near as I can determine, he began working from this address in 1855. There are also examples of items from T. Hawksley and George P. Pilling in the conversation tube category of the collection.

The different trumpets, as you will see from browsing the category, have been given names, such as pipe trumpets, London domes, etc. dictated by their shape or origin. Since hearing trumpets were manufactured for well over a hundred years, and most of the examples are unmarked as to manufacturer and date, it is difficult to attribute or date most of the ear trumpets in the collection. For this reason, I have not attempted to specify dates unless it was possible to correctly identify the item.

 ¹ The Hearing Aid, Its Operation and Development, Kenneth W. Berger.


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Example of an Ear Trumpet

Click on the "Non-Electric" button (on
the left), then on "Ear Trumpets" to see the details of this and other ear trumpets



Click the above button to see general information on the next category of
non-electric hearing aids.



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The above ad for ear trumpets (horns) and conversation tubes were taken from  the 1894 Montgomery-Ward catalogue.


Here's an old interesting story:

Aunt Jane's Ear Trumpet

The below story, written by Horatio Alger, was published in 1889.



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The story, "Aunt Jane's Ear Trumpet". The above picture is hard to read, but click here to read the retyped easy-to-read pdf version.


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The masthead of the "Leisure Hour Library" where Aunt Jane's Ear Trumpet was published on April 18, 1889.

Below is the first known printing of the above story. It was published in Gleason's Literary Companion
on April 8, 1865

Aunt Jane's Ear Trumpet



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 The above story is hard to read, so you may want to click here to read the supersized version. (Set window to full screen for ease in reading this story.)


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Aunt Jane and her "Dipper" ear trumpet, her niece and her niece's daughter.


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The masthead of the "magazine" where Aunt Jane's Ear Trumpet was originally published on April 8, 1865.

The above pictures/stories were kindly provided by Bob Sipes, Acting President of The Horatio Alger Society.