Thomas Edison and Living with Hearing Loss

Living with hearing loss can have an isolating effect. When we cannot hear others, we tend to withdraw. Oddly enough, that very factor of withdrawal was something Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, counted on. Silence became his happy, productive place.

It seems Mr. Edison either acquired a childhood bout with Scarlet Fever or was boxed on the ears by a train conductor (as legend has it). But one way or another he lived with hearing loss all of his life. Edison’s hearing loss made him seem “addled” to his school teachers in the early and only years of his formal education. They considered him a dull student. Ultimately it was hearing loss that caused him to drop out of school at a young age. Edison’s studious mother helped him become a lover of reading and kick-started his lifelong love of learning.

Despite his hearing loss, the phonograph was one of Edison’s favorite inventions. Edison’s patent on the phonograph was issued on February 19, 1878. He continued to tinker with it and adjust it for years after. And now, 138 years later, we still enjoy Edison’s invention, in one of the many technological forms it has taken over the years.

Though we don’t recommend Edison’s approach to embracing hearing loss—even if you happen to file 1,093 patents in the United States during the course of your life (Edison’s U.S. record for patents remained unbroken until 2003). Had Edison turned his attention to a hearing aid (and away from his happy place), no doubt there would have been many more significant milestones. But it’s Edison’s spirit of inquiry that drives our own curiosity about helping people hear better.

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