In the 1870s, E.B. Meyrowitz, an optician in New York City, established a surgical instrument company. By 1887, the company began manufacturing acoustic aids for the deaf, the most prominent of which was the Otophone*. The device was invented by James A. Maloney, who filed for a patent the same year, for a hearing aid with a diaphragm made out of soft rubber held in place under tension. A later patent, received in 1895, modified the materials, outlining the otophone as black ebonite, with the diaphragm made of a circular sheet of aluminum in order to best possess “great vibratory properties.”
Otophones were essential a modified form of the ear trumpet, but instead of a tube being inserted into the ear, a user applied a telephone-like receiver disc against the ear; sounds were transmitted through the diaphragm towards the receiver. Since the aid rested against the ear rather than being inserted into the ear canal, it was supposedly safer to use, and more comfortable than standard ear trumpets. Reviewing the device, The New York Observer wrote in 1906:
The real bitterness of deafness is known only to the afflicted themselves. The sensitiveness of the deaf is extreme and often prevents them from securing mechanical assistance. It ought not, however, to appear unusual for a deaf person to use a mechanical help for hearing any more than it is for a short-sighted individual to wear glasses, nor should the use of such instrument excite curiosity of comment.
Offered in two models, of which the smaller 1B measured at 7 x 7 x 4.5 cm, otophones were advertised as the best aid for partial deafness and in increasing amplification of high frequencies. It was sold for less than $15.00, though interested customers could mail in the fee and try out the device for 5 days, after which if unsatisfied, they were guaranteed their money back. The larger 1C model weighted only 3 ½ ounces, which, as one advert expressed, was convenient for carrying.
*Not to be confused with the Marconi Company’s 1923 desktop hearing aid.