Hearing aid museum amplifies the past

Nicole Stempak

Freshman philosophy major Alex Nikitin had never heard of a hearing aid museum before.

“I had no idea that there was such a place, let alone that it existed here,” he said.

The Kenneth W. Berger Hearing Aid Museum and Archives, located in the Music and Speech Center, houses more than 3,000 different hearing aid models.

The museum, which has been featured in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and the Detroit Free Press, started by accident, said Carol Sommer, director of the Speech and Hearing Clinic.

The university had been saving old and unusual hearing aids with the idea of someday displaying a collection.

In a June 1966 article, the National Hearing Aid Journal associated the collection with the word “museum,” and the Hearing Aid Museum began.

After the article’s publication, the late Kenneth Berger, who was a professor of audiology and founder of the museum, began receiving donations for it from around the world.

“It was just to be a collection on a 4-by-8 pegboard,” Berger said in a 1985 Daily Kent Stater article.

But it became what he called the world’s largest hearing aid museum.

Sommer credits Berger with the broadness of the collection, which spans from the 1800s to the present.

“Dr. Berger did an amazing job tracking down the history of each hearing device,” Sommer said.

The university has not purchased any of the hearing aids. All items in the collection have been donated by private individuals or manufacturers.

“We have the entire history of hearing aids, from the ear trumpet to the completely in-the-ear model,” Sommer said.

The museum also houses a large collection of archival materials such as hearing aid patents, technical data sheets, trade journals and Berger’s personal letters. This material is often used by researchers and lawyers.

On Wednesday, a lawyer from Chicago came to view the patent records, Sommer said.

Students can also learn from the hearing aids.

“Often, students come and look at the museum and are grateful they don’t have to wear those big hearing aids,” Sommer said.

The museum is located in the Speech and Hearing Clinic in the Music and Speech Center and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Contact news correspondent Nicole Stempak at [email protected]ent.edu.