Can You Hear Me Now?

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June 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

Seventy-five years ago this September, NSPE was founded. Here's a look at some other engineering news from 1934.

NSPE's 75thHarvey Fletcher, a research physicist who worked for the Western Electric Co. of New York and its later incarnation, Bell Laboratories, is credited with the invention of the first electronic hearing aid in 1934.

After working with a University of Chicago mentor on research that first measured the charge on an electron (his mentor, Robert Millikan, won the Nobel Prize for this), Fletcher turned his attention to acoustics.

While working at Bell Labs, he received more than 40 patents for acoustical devices. His Western Electric Hearing Aid was the first device of that type to use vacuum tubes. Early models were given to Alfred Dupont and Thomas Edison.

In addition to the electronic hearing aid, his work led to high-fidelity recording, accurate audiometers for measuring hearing, the artificial larynx, and other innovations. Fletcher was the founding member and first president of the Acoustical Society of America, an organization of professionals working in various fields related to sound.