When a man suddenly becomes deaf there is little or nothing he would shrink from if it afforded, or seemed to afford, the smallest chance that he would recover the enjoyment of a sense which he never properly valued until he lost it. About sixteen years ago, when well advanced in life, I suddenly lost my hearing, first in one ear and after a few days in the other; and so great was my desire for a cure, that in the course of the next twelve-month I had placed myself, consecutively, under no fewer than six medical men, most of them well-known specialists.
The writer then summarizes his treatments and remarks in a table:
Treatment 1: Politzer’s inflation and Eustachian Catheterism on both sides. Pilocarpine internally. Result: Deafness became absolute on both sides.
Treatment 2: Potassium Iodidum in heroic doses. Potassium Bromidum. Blisters behind Ears. Result: Depression to the verge of suicide.
Treatment 3: Phosphorus. Result: Exaltation to the verge of lunacy.
I’m beginning a new project on the historical contributions of women to otology, many of whom have been overlooked in scholarship. My current article investigates the physiological work of Dr. Phyllis Margaret Tookey Kerridge, who died on June 22, 1940, the only daughter of Mr. William Alfred Tookey of Bromley, Kent. She was educated at the City of London School of Girls and at University College London; her graduate studies commenced at the latter institution, first in chemistry and then physiology, where she was also appointed as lecturer. She also held posts in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Marine Biological Association Laboratory at Plymouth, the Carlsberg Laboratories at Copenhagen, and at London Hospital. She received her M.D. from University College Hospital, in 1933 and became member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1937.
During the 1930s, Kerridge conducted experiments to measure the residual hearing capacity of children in London County Council schools, as well as experiments in teaching with electronic hearing aids. Much of her research was on patients at the Royal Ear Hospital, who were tested in the hospital’s “Silence Room:” a 3,500 cubic room in the basement of the hospital’s new building on Huntley Street, with
“walls impenetrable to extraneous noises and which will never reflect, deflect nor refract sounds—a chamber of the stillness of death, where absolute accuracy and complete consistency in results will be obtained.”
The room was built so exact tests to measure degrees of deafness can be made in ideal and constant conditions. Such stillness in this room apparently allowed people to hear heartbeats and the “flick” of their eyelids! A small table and two chairs were placed in the room. There was a bell to call the Porter’s room and an electric fan affixed there as well.
The Committee of the Royal Ear Hospital occasionally granted permission to medical practitioners to use the Silence Room for their own research purposes. For instance, in 1929, they granted the otologist Dr. Charles Skinner Hallpike (1900-1979), a research scholar from Middlesex Hospital, to use the room free of charge. Hallpike is particularly known for his ground-breaking work on the causes of Meniere’s disease (a disorder that causes episodes of vertigo) and for the Dix-Hallpike test for diagnosing benign positional vertigo (sensation when everything is spinning around you).
The hospital’s 1938 Annual Reports reveals that Kerridge was appointed to research at the Silence Room, then renamed as the “Hearing Aid Clinic,” working alongside Mr. Myles Formby to conduct hearing test on the hospital’s patients. Though the Clinic was initially started on a 6-month trial period, Kerriddge’s work was so beneficial that the hospital Committee decided to let her continue her research work and audiometer tests, extending care to private patients as well. They provided her with two more rooms in the basement, one as a waiting room and the other as an office, as well as the services of Miss W.J. Waddge as an assistant. In 1939, Kerridge viewed 170 cases, and according to the reports, her work among deaf patients was successful in helping many of them to be fitted properly for hearing aids.
Cotton-wool has long been a staple in households as well as in the aural surgeon’s tool kit. For ear ailments, cotton was used in all sorts of ways: soaked in olive oil and inserted into the ear, trimmed and soaked in medicaments to cover a perforated eardrum, and even inserted between rubber to serve as a hearing aid. These days, the extent of our relationships between cotton and the ear is Q-tips®–most of us use these cotton swabs to clean out ear wax, risking the tremendous pain of stabbing our eardrums each and every time. We’re not supposed to use cotton swabs anymore, medical professions say, but that doesn’t really stop us, does it?
Did you know Q-tips® were invented in 1923 by Polish-born American Leo Gerstenzang (1892-1973)? He was inspired after watching his wife attach pieces of cotton to short sticks of wood to clean out hard-to-reach places. Gerstenzang founded a company, the Leo Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Company, which marketed baby care accessories; his cotton product was originally called Baby Gays. Yes, Baby Gays. By 1926, he changed the name to Q-tips® Baby Gays to identify the “quality” of the product. Eventually he changed the name again.
But Q-tips® were not the first technological product designed for cleaning out ears. Earwax was, and is, an annoying problem for most people. Too much of it not only feels gross, but can hamper hearing. How did people deal with this? Basic procedures: using the finger or small stick to clean out ear. If the earwax build-up was bad enough, a medical practitioner would recommend syringing with water or medicaments to weaken and drain out the earwax.
Ear Scoops, or Ear-picks were used for cleaning out the ear canal. People from all levels of society used these tools which were made from different types of materials. Some versions, however, were costly status symbols made for higher, fashionable living; they were made of gold or silver and intricately detailed. Some ear scoops were double-ended, with the other side for cleaning nails; others were a part of the splendour of toiletry, with a space reserved in toilet kits.
I love the fact while I go through newspaper archives dating from 1900-1930s, I find the most amazing things that makes me pause in my research and pursue the new find. Case in point: this weekend, I came across this ad:
This was yet another example of an early twentieth century product claiming to cure the complications of catarrh: headaches, sore throat, and even deafness. Catarrh, if you’re unaware, is an unpleasant nasal congestion with an excess build-up of mucus in the throat, nose, ears, or chest. It usually follows after persistent cold or flu; and as colds and flus affect people differently, so too does catarrh. Some people’s symptoms go away after a few days while others remain plagued for a few years.
Some nineteenth-century aurists explained the cause of catarrh as owing to a defect in the Eustachian tubes, which connects the middle ear to the pharynx. Fluid can build up there, thus accounting for excessive mucus in the ear and temporary deafness that occurred in some patients. Decongestants, air pumps, syringing, were recommended as treatments.
By the turn of the century, patent medicine in America became widespread through advertisements. Which leads me back to the advert I came across, for Kondon’s Catarrhal Jelly, which I’ve never heard of before. Naturally, I started digging into the product to uncover its history: was it a reputable product or another patented medicine propagated by a “quack” boasting of its ineffectiveness?
The advert indicates the product was manufactured in Minneapolis, Minnesota. So, off I searched for the Minnesota archives and found a bio of one Thomas N. Kenyon (1863-1935), the owner of the Kondon Manufacturing Company, which produced proprietary medicine in Minneapolis. Kenyon worked on a farm in New York state until he arrived to Minneapolis in 1882 and worked in a grocery store, eventually moving up as a traveling salesman for Frederick F. Ingram, drug specialist of Detroit. Around the late 1890s, he developed Kondon’s Catarrhal Jelly.
The Jelly was initially distributed by free samples (enough for seven days) to increase its reputation:
Enough to prove to you conclusively that it is the most marvellous remedy for catarrh, the pleasantest, safest, most soothing and healing method for the treatment of this foul disease. 
Eventually the business grew to such an extent that Kenyon acquired a property to manufacture and spread the distribution. According to Rev. Marion Daniel Shutter, the business multiplied once Kenyon turned to newspaper advertising after a few years of mail-order samples and testimonials:
Since that time he has steadily increased his appropriation among the prominent dallies of the east and middle west. He is thoroughly systematic in his advertising and a firm believer in concentration…The success he has achieved, while in a great measure due to hard work and judicious advertising, could never have been accomplished without the backing of merit.
The Jelly was widely recognized throughout North America and England.
Kenyon’s life is grand with tales. He worked as the Director of the Minneapolis National Bank, he collected cars and driving horses, and apparently a domestic servant employed in his house was charged with insanity after she contemplated suicide following an unhappy love affair.
I searched through google newspaper archives quickly for more Kondon’s advertisements and came across this series from 1917.
Clearly these ads depict how easy and versatile the product is, for a variety of everyday settings. Here’s another advert I found that highlights the longevity –and hence, general trustworthiness–of the company and product.
Advertisements between 1930 and 1932 were overseen by the Mac Martin Advertising Company, a prominent figure in the advertising community of Minneapolis.
That’s as far as I got before I realized I really should get back to writing my overdue article…
 Rev. Marion Daniel Shutter, History of Minneapolis, Gateway to the Northwest Volume III (Chicago & Minneapolis: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923), 450-453.
An 1922 advertisement in The Illustrated London News caught my eye:
Look at the flapper! Is she being coy? Ignoring the gentleman who’s obviously flirting with her? Or is she deaf to his fancy words?
This was the first half of an advert for the “Acoustion,” which claimed it could restore hearing in deaf individuals and improve their lot in hearing culture:
Why…should you be debarred from the pleasures of attending church, theatre, concert or conference? Why, when there is an instrument that will neutralise your deafness, should you be prevented from entering into conversation without difficulty, and listening to music without effort?
The Acousticon was one of the first portable electric hearing aids, the invention of American engineer Miller Reese Hutchison (1876-1944).
He invented the first electrical hearing aid around 1895, called the “Akoulallion” (Greek for “to hear” and “to speak”), a table instrument that was connected to a carbon microphone and earphones—essentially, a “microtelephone.” The device was sold in limited quantities for $400 out of The Akouphone Company, which was established by Hutchinson and James H. Wilson in Mobile, Alabama in 1898/9. In 1901, the Akoulallion is redesigned and sold as the “Akouphone,” at a retail price of $60. The bulky nature of these devices made them unpopular and thus did not sell well. For instance, in the 1902 The Silent Worker, the popular newsletter for deaf individuals, Alexander L. Pach wrote:
Some question has been raised as to Mr. Hutchinson’s sincerity and belief in the efficacy of his machine [the Akoulallion]. There should not be any. Mr. Hutchinson was sincerity itself. He believed what many deaf people told him, and it’s a surprising fact that many of us who are deaf were fooled by that they experienced. I had intelligent deaf people tell me that they heard, where they only felt the vibrations, and these vibrations needed no machine to bring them out. Such a great number of the deaf are unable to distinguish between hearing and feeling that they were the means of deceiving the inventor, and some of our expert teachers, hearing ones, who stood by were fooled, too.
In 1901, Hutchison moved to New York and continued inventing new devices through his new company, the Hutchison Acoustic Co., operated along with Willard S. Mears. The “Acousticon” was shortly introduced, a more portable version of the Akouphone and powered by batteries; it had three components, cost 10 guineas, and the batteries lasted from a few hours up to a week. It was deemed a miraculous invention and adverts asserted the deaf that it was recommended, if not favoured, by many aural specialists.
This invention is a portable telephonic apparatus intended to be used by persons with impaired hearing…[It can be] adapted to be used in a room or hall to enable partially-deaf persons to hear speech, music, or other sounds which are ordinarily heard by persons with normal hearing powers.
Hutchison was prominent in publicizing his invention, even exhibiting it at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Queen Alexandra of Denmark counted herself as a grateful customer.
The virtues of the Acousitcon were tested by selected deaf and partially-deaf individuals in New York, who offered their professional opinions of the instrument. R.E. Maynard tested the device and notified readers of The Silent Worker that
the result was exactly the same—something that approximated sound was sent through the ear, which was rather more a sense of feeling, than of real hearing. It was so faint that no distinction could be made without the inventor first teaching the difference of sounds in the words “papa,” mamma,” “hello.” The notes from the piano and banjo could be differentiated, while the finer and shriller notes of the guitar and cornet could not, although the sound was thrown into the ear by some powerful current. It is probable the same difference in sounds could be distinguished by a deaf person holding in his hands an empty cigar box. While it was shown that bona fide deaf-mutes have little hope of making practical use of the Acousticon, it was clearly demonstrated that the device will prove highly helpful to the hard of hearing, and for that purpose is probably a great success (1903).
Hard-of-hearing Lucy Taylor was delighted at the benefits of the instrument. In 1913, she wrote to the Silent Worker:
It gave me the first ray of hope I have had in many years, for surely Mr. Hutchison knows what he is talking about. I have long felt, that if someone who understood, cared enough to really try, something might be invented, that would do for the partially deaf what glasses do for the partially blind.
The Acousiton’s advertisements were spectacular, quite eye-catching, even used during elections and maybe the device was even used by time-travellers!* Adverts highlighted the numerous satisfied customers across North America and Europe–this ad in particular indicates that there was a Toronto office branch.
He also invented another variation of the Acousticon, the “Massacon,” which converted audio into vibrations.
This variation was for those with more profound hearing loss, but the price was high: 12 guineas up to 23 pounds when sold in England through the company Acoustic Patents, Limited. A table version was also adopted in schools for the deaf, particularly in Chicago and San Francisco as a teaching tool to teach deaf pupils speech.