Utahns who wear hearing aids have one of their own to thank for helping develop the device.
Harney Fletcher, a Provo native better known as the father of stereo, is credited with building one of the first electrically powered, vacuum tube-based hearings aids – Bell Research/Western’s Model 2A in the mid-1920s.
Credit for the first electric hearing aid, an 1899 tabletop model employing a carbon microphone and battery, usually goes to Alabamians Miller Reese Hutchison and J. Wilson of the Akouphone Co.
And it was Earl C. Hanson’s whose 1920 “Vactuphone” was apparently the first vacuum tube hearing aid. It was patented in 1921 and manufactured by Boston’s Globe Ear-Phone Co.
But even if a close second, the Model 2A and Fletcher need not share the honor of having one of their first models being worn by famous hard-of-hearing inventor Thomas Edison.
In his autobiography, Fletcher also wrote of helping install a group hearing aid system for a 1920s meeting of the American Federal of Organizations for the Hard of Hearing.
When Fletcher spoke the the group, now equipped with 100 sets of headphones, the crowd “sat with tears running down their cheeks, crying, ‘I can hear, I can hear.’ It was the first time most of them had ever heard a public speech.”
Fletcher’s record of scientific achievement was voluminous, particularly in the area of speech and hearing research. His 1929 book Speech and Hearing still is considered a classic study of the science of sound.
The founding dean of Brigham Young University’s engineering program, Fletcher also developed an artificial larynx. He was a doctoral student under Robert Millikan at the University of Chicago, working closely with him on electron research that led to Millikan’s 1923 Nobel Prize.
It was his work at Bell that led to the advent of high-fidelity recording, sound motion pictures, the first accurate clinical audiometers to measure hearing, the Model 2A hearing aid.
In all, Fletcher is credited with dozens of patents and writing more than 50 scientific works.
He died July 23, 1981 in Provo at age 96.
By Bob Mims