Early Clinical Audiology – The Legacy of Dr. Moe Bergman and the WWII Audiologists

Robert Traynor
March 12, 2014

mb6Dr. Moe Bergman, a World War II veteran, one of the founders of the profession of Audiology, designer of the first Veteran’s Administration Audiology Clinics (US), the first Executive mb3Officer and former Professor  of Audiology within the Doctoral Program in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at the City University of New York (CUNY), died on February 20, 2014 in Herzliya, Israel. He was 97. Upon his retirement from CUNY in 1975, he accepted a comparable position in the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv, Israel and ultimately retired from that position in 1985.

David Kirkwood, at HHTM tracks his career across a lifetime and presents a tribute in this week’s Hearing View.

Probably the best historical discussion of the development of Audiology during the World War II period is Dr. Bergman’s 2002 Monograph in Audiology Today titled, The Origins of Audiology:  American Wartime Military Audiology.  Dr. Bergman, along with his contemporaries, lived the infancy of Audiology–a time when there were many basic questions and very few answers about auditory evaluation and rehabilitative treatment of the hearing impaired.  His treatise on the development of the profession during WWII reads like a virtual “Who’s Who” of Speech and Hearing in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s and should be on the reading list for every basic audiology course worldwide.   It was this group of Audiology pioneers and their clinical experiences, developed in the shadows of War, that shaped the profession. Through their publications, textbooks, teaching, research,  and leadership, these trailblazers molded Audiology into a robust worldwide, research-based, clinical profession.  This volume was his gift to the profession documenting our history and legacy.

War Years Audiology

A few years ago in an interviewmb with Doug Beck from the American Academy of Audiology, Dr. Bergman overviewed his early career and marked his place in audiology history:

“I was in the army from 1943 to 1946.  I had studied radio and radio repair in an army pre-induction course—before being called up for active duty.  In fact, the army decided to have me learn about stringing telephone lines so I actually had to climb telephone poles!  Of course, we all thought that it was a great challenmb1ge because we were young and naïve—but the reality was we didn’t have the safety equipment they have today. Once you got to the top and looked down, it seemed pretty high.   I learned quite a bit about electricity and electronics and that served me well as I got more involved with audiology.  Nonetheless, the army was getting more concerned with soldiers who had suffered noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus secondary to weapons and noise exposure. I sought out a position working with soldiers with hearing impairment to allow me to use my skills and knowledge related to aural rehab. Back in those days, it wasn’t a good idea to be too aggressive while you were in the army!   But I did send a letter to the Surgeon General’s office in Washington and stated I was prepared to work with soldiers with hearing impairment. The timing of my lettmb5er was fortuitous. The army had decided to set up the west coast Aural Rehabilitation Clinic at the Hoff General Hospital in Santa Barbara and a clinic at Borden General Hospital in Chickasha, Oklahoma, and one at Walter Reed Hospital, in DC. Ray Carhart joined the Deshon program in Butler, Pennsylvania 7 months later.  At the Hoff clinic I remember we selected new equipment and rack-mounted it to perform tests of hearing, hearing aid “fittings,” etc.   This was my job, since the remainder of the large rehabilitation staff at first were teachers of lip reading, auditory training, and speech therapy. Then Ira Hirsch arrived and he, too, joined the technical activities as acoustics officer. The program just got better and better with the addition of other professionals, such as a psychologist, a social worker and more ENT doctors. My programb7m was called the Aural Rehabilitation Unit of the Department of Ear, Nose, and Throat at Hoff General. I arrived as they were starting the program and I stayed there until 1946, when they closed the unit after Hiroshima.”

As a 21st century audiologist, imagine the challenge of not having some of the basic tools of audiometric evaluation such as bone conduction, speech audiometry, masking, tests for malingering, special site of lesion testing and trying to  your job basically the same as it is now:   Evaluate hearing impairment and decide if amplification will be of benefit or if medical treatment is necessary.  During the 1940s, the audiometer itself was still quite crude and only about 20 years old.  Many of the other audiometric tools and procedures were not yet invented, but it was a time of intense need for the  millions of hearing-impaired service members requiring evaluation and treatment for their hearing impairment.  Dr. Bergman and his WW II colleagues were our audiological ancestors. By means of research, trial and error, and sheer determination they worked through the audiological problems and devised most of our basic techniques.  Many of the successful evaluations and theoretical concepts developed by this group of radio repairmen, speech scientists, electronic technicians, and infantry officers became the true evaluation techniques of today and have been perpetuated across the globe by these individuals in the interest of evaluating the hearing-impaired for medical and aural rehabilitative treatment.

The Move to Israel

mb8 In 1953, Dr. Bergman accepted an invitation from Israeli otolaryngologists he had met that year in Stockholm to visit Tel-Hashomer Hospital. He helped start an audiology clinic there, and in later years started clinics at other hospitals in Israel, including Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. In 1967, he headed up the group designing the curriculum for the Department of Communication Disorders at Tel Aviv University.  In 1975, he accepted a position the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv and moved to Israel. There, he helped establish the university’s undergraduate program for teachers of the deaf and co-founded the Israeli Society for Auditory Research. Dr. Bergman continued to be active worldwide in audiology and served as a consultant to numerous organizations, hospitals, and audiology training programs around the world.

Donations in memory of Dr. Moe Bergman can be made to the Department of Communication Disorders, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel.

  1. Thanks for writing this article about the wonderful Moe Bergman. And recalling the difficult times these pioneers experienced as they struggled to provide rehabilitation services. For they contrived out of whole cloth, as you mentioned, the bases of what eventually became our profession. Having spent my career in the hearing aid industry, I am particularly impressed by their struggles in trying to develop procedures for fitting aids. If one goes back and reads the issues (during the WWII years )of the Volta Review (possibly the lone journal besides JASA to report about progress in the service rehab hospitals), one is struck by the different hearing aid fitting approaches each clinic used. The Carhart comparative method was not universally used by all to select amplification, as one might assume. The clinicians had only hazy ideas about the relation between gain and output, thresholds, MCL and UCL, and little or no ability to modify the response. Instead, they had to substitute, one after the other, microphones, receivers, batteries and amplifiers, the separate parts of the old carbon hearing aids, in order to find an acceptable combination of components. Prescription formulas were unknown, and speech testing, as often as not, was conducted with uncalibrated equipment using undocumented and crude speech tests. Yet they managed to begin sorting out what worked and what didn’t, paving the way for the future of our profession.
    Dr Bergman was always an enthusiastic proponent of amplification, even during times when many in our profession kept their distance. I visited him in Israel in the early 1990s and fitted him with bilateral IROS aids for his high frequency loss. He was lively, interesting, full of stories and looking into the future. Just a very great,inspiring and welcoming person in all respects.

  2. Dear Mr. Traynor/Bob,

    Thank you for your generous and highly laudatory article about my father. I know he would have been as pleased by it as I am.

    With warmest wishes,

    Jay (Bergman)

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