75 years of Bernafon

1946 - 1974

A Swiss lead into hearing care

It all started in Switzerland when young Hans Gfeller Jr., a student in engineering, got a hold of his father’s new hearing aid and built his own.

1946

The starting point

With two factories in the Bern area, Gfeller AG was a telecommunication company best known for their telephones. Although successful, management always kept on the look out for opportunities for expansion. A big break came when the company’s owner, Hans Gfeller Sr., got back home from a trip to the US with a brand new hearing instrument. His son, Hans Gfeller Jr., took a particularly keen interest in it. But instead of admiring what was then the best in audiology technology, he grabbed a screwdriver and proceeded to take it apart, piece by piece. Shortly after, he started developing and selling his own sound amplification devices through the family business.

  • A visit from Switzerland’s postal, telephone and telegraph service (PTT), a corporate client. Hans Gfeller Sr. is fifth from the right.

  • Hans Gfeller Jr. & Hans Gfeller Sr., with hearing instrument

December


“A contract has been completed with A. Kunz & Co, Zurich, and E. Singer, Bern, for the provision of 250 hard of hearing 3 lamp amplification devices, at a sales price of 128 Swiss Francs, production cost including tests and construction approx. 76 Francs . A first sample is being completed and will be ready in the next few days.”

Company board minutes, December 20, 1946

1949

An instant global success

Interest in the Gfeller hearing aids picked up quickly also outside Switzerland. By 1949, sales contracts had been concluded as far away as North Africa and the Middle East. A few years later, a first sales branch was opened in Stuttgart, Germany.

  • Hearing aid testing, circa 1950

  • Hearing aid production, circa 1950

1954

From portable to behind the ear

Bernafon’s first portable hearing instrument was a two part device with valve amplifiers and a filament battery that users had to carry around in a separate box. With transistors continuing to shrink in size, Gfeller AG introduced its first behind the ear instruments.

mini_vakuumroehre_384x384

Development from mini vacuum valves to the transistor (scale: 1:2)

1975 - 1994

Expansion and consolidation

The economic crisis of 1973 combined with rapid technological changes shaped the company’s strategy for the years that followed. To make its place in an increasingly competitive market, Gfeller AG – still mostly a telecommunications company – needed to shift all its focus on hearing aids.

1982

Launch of T-Series

The first to be equipped with integrated circuits and two small chips inside, the T-Series proved a definite success. With further refinement over subsequent years, the product was so popular that it remained in production until 2002.

1987

Ascom merger

The Gfeller company merged with Autophon, Hasler and Zellweger and forms Ascom. The new group employed 14,000 workers and accounted for CHF 2.2 billion annual turnover.

First digital hearing aid

After four years in development, PHOX, the world’s first digitally programmable hearing system was ready.

phox_tek_enduser_384x384

“Previous devices had to be adjusted manually by an acoustician using a screwdriver. With PHOX, fittings could be carried out using a programming unit incorporating an Intel processor. Adjustments could be made for up to ten different parameters.”

phox_tek_enduser_384x384

“Previous devices had to be adjusted manually by an acoustician using a screwdriver. With PHOX, fittings could be carried out using a programming unit incorporating an Intel processor. Adjustments could be made for up to ten different parameters.”

1989

A key player in the industry

“With great pride, the company’s management was able to tell employees and shareholders that the new group was ranked eleventh among the world’s largest telecommunications firms.”

1992

Take-over of Bosch hearing activities

The company continued to grow with the acquisition of the hearing instrument activities of German firm Robert Bosch GmbH. The same year, the company opened its own sales wing in Berlin.

1994

Sale of Ascom Audiosys to William Demant Holding

“As part of a new strategy determined by the Ascom group, it was decided that various activities should be offloaded. The production of hearing instruments is subsequently acquired by Denmark’s William Demant.”

1995 - 2021

On the road of innovation

Following the take-over by William Demant Holding – with a core business strongly rooted in hearing care – alignment and cooperation started in production and logistics. Product development, marketing and sales remained separate and carried out independently.

1995

Bernafon name and new headquarters in Bern-Bümpliz

The various divisions are renamed ‘Bernafon’. For the first time, Bernafon connected and referred to the product, the firm behind it, and the brand new headquarters in Bern-Bümpliz.

Bernafon on an innovation streak


1999

Smile

First fully digital hearing aid

2002

Symbio

World’s first ChannelFree™ hearing aid

2007

Brite

Award-winning design with external speaker

2012

Chronos

Nano receiver-in-the-ear instrument with feedback canceller

2018

Zerena

First hearing aid compatabile with smartphones

2019

Viron

First lithium-ion rechargeable hearing aid

2019

Leox

A True Environment Processing™ hearing aid for people with profound hearing loss

2020

Alpha

The industry’s first hearing aid with Hybrid Technology™

2021

New opportunities ahead

Thanks to a clear direction and focus on high-performance products, leading technology, and outstanding support, Bernafon continues to evolve and increase market share. Customer and user needs and expectations in a changing industry makes for interesting years to come.

“Together we empower people to hear and communicate better.”

“Together we empower people to hear and communicate better.”