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Beltone

Contributed by , President

Beltone is based near Chicago, Illinois and is one of the largest hearing instrument manufacturers in the U.S. It also has a global presence - its products are sold in more than 50 countries around the world. Beltone prides itself not only on its devices, which are engineered for comfort and ease of use, but on its reputation for customer care.

History

The Early Years

In the 1930s, a man named Sam Posen developed a simple hearing aid so his friend could regain some of his hearing and enjoy life again. The device must have been successful, because by 1940, Posen formed The Beltone Company in Chicago in a meager 120-square-foot office space downtown. That same year, Beltone introduced its first-ever hearing aid - the Model H™. Posen built the devices in the back room while his wife, Faye, tested customers' hearing and fitted them for aids.

Beltone headquartersIn 1941, a representative from a Minneapolis hearing aid distributor visited the Beltone office and convinced the Posens to sell their devices there. Even though it was World War II and materials were scarce, they forged ahead. Faye's brother, Daver Barnow, joined Beltone in 1943 and convinced the Posens to have an exclusive network of dispensers. While the war is continuing, batteries are rationed, but Beltone requested access to a compact battery being used exclusively for war efforts, and in 1944 access was granted. The company used it in its revolutionary Mono-Pac device - the first all-in-one hearing aid.

By the mid-1940s, Beltone had really taken off. The company had 75 employees, a 17,500 square-foot factory and 50 distributors around the country by 1945. The next year, the Beltone Harmony™ is introduced, and it is smaller than others on the market due to the fact that it uses mercury batteries, which are smaller than others. Also in 1946, the Posens unveil the Selectometer, which aids dispensers in fitting customers. Beltone sets its sights on international markets with the launch of Beltone International that same year.

In 1947, with the war over, the U.S. government releases the printed electronic circuit for citizens' use, and in 1948, Beltone released the first hearing aid to rely on the printed electronic circuit, rather than soldered wires: The Symphonette™. By 1949, Beltone has more than 100 distributors in North America.

The 1950s

With a decade of success, Beltone decides to keep the ball rolling in the early 1950s by focusing on consumer education and erasing misinformation about hearing loss and stereotypes about hearing aids. It advertises, opens an Institute for Consultant Training and hosts the first international convention for hearing aid dispensers in Chicago. At the convention, Beltone launches the Melody™ body aid and demonstrates its use by having two models with the hearing aid receivers clasped to their bras. It also introduces receivers that clip on to brooches, ties and eyeglasses.

The company continued to progress. In 1952, Beltone opened a 30,000 square-foot headquarters in Chicago, and in 1953, it introduced an updated version of the Lyric™ body aid with vacuum tubes and transistors. Next comes The Concerto™ - an all-transistorized body aid, followed by The Allegro™ - a light and small device that appeals to women for its ability to be hidden in their hairstyles - and then The Operetta™. Beltone has more than 300 employees at this point, and the Posens' son Larry joins after receiving a degree in electrical engineering.

In 1956, the company launches its Hear-N-See™ - a binaural hearing aid at the ear level that is attached to eyeglasses. In 1957, Beltone introduces an eyeglass aid that uses bone conduction. The company's first behind-the-ear hearing aid, the Minuet™, is for sale in 1958, and it's even featured on a soap opera.

The 1960s and 1970s

Beltone spends the 1960s defining itself. It has a huge presence on CBS radio shows, which serves as a great advertising mechanism. Beltone defines its mission, which is focused on hearing rehabilitation rather than just providing people with hearing aids. It also establishes itself as a charitable organization, donating audiological equipment and hearing aids to underprivileged people in South America. In 1963, Beltone moves to its fourth plant in the Chicago area, which is equipped with state-of-the-art research facilities as well.

The 1960s also saw more game-changing innovations from Beltone. In 1964, Posen invents the Micro-Module electronic circuit, which makes it possible to have an even smaller behind-the-ear hearing aid. It uses this technology in its Serenade behind-the-ear device. Next up is The Bravo, which also uses the Micro-Module circuit and uses a custom ear mold for the first time for comfort. In 1967, Beltone's "Beat the Heat" kit is introduced with silica gel as a dehumidifier to remove moisture from hearing aids so they last longer. In 1969, Beltone makes custom ear molds for each U.S. astronaut, including those on the Apollo mission to protect their hearing during lift-off and re-entry.

Beltone continues experiencing major success in the 1970s. It expands its headquarters yet again, celebrates its 30th anniversary, holds three inaugural Beltone International conventions and Sam and Faye's son, Larry, takes over as president in 1974.

After 50,000 hours of development, Beltone launches its Certifax verification system in 1977 to help hearing health care practitioners assess, measure and evaluate the sound quality of Beltone hearing aids. In 1979, Beltone opens its first affiliate in Canada.

The later years

By the 1980s, Beltone was a well-established company that continued to experience success. It launched the Ode™ in 1983 - its first in-the-canal hearing aid, which likely convinced more people to get hearing aids as it was a discreet device. Plus, 1983 was the year that President Reagan was fitted for hearing aids, likely erasing much stigma. Beltone expands its global reach in the 1980s, and in 1987, Beltone launches a petite hearing aid with a patented wax guard system - its 60th patent - that uses smaller batteries for a micro-canal hearing aid. Beltone also made advancements in diagnostic testing with The Model 2000 in 1988. In 1989, it reveals the most powerful canal hearing aid on the market - the Opera Max™.

The 1990s and 2000s bring about several advances in diagnostics and devices: The Invisa™ in 1994, which is virtually invisible, the SelectaFit™ fitting software in 1996, the Beltone Digital™ in 1998, the Beltone AVE™ for fitting in 2002, the Marq™ - the smallest behind-the-ear hearing aid on the market, and the Beltone True™ in 2011, which is completely wireless.

Today, Beltone remains a competitively global hearing aid manufacturer with a strong reputation in patient care, innovation and customer service.

This content was last reviewed on: July 7th, 2014

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