This review presents some of the major historical events that advanced the body of knowledge of the anatomy of the inner ear and its sensory receptors as well as the biology of these receptors that underlies the sensory functions of hearing and balance. This knowledge base of the inner ear's structure/function has been an essential factor for the design and construction of prosthetic devices to aid patients with deficits in their senses of hearing and balance. Prosthetic devices are now available for severely hearing impaired and deaf patients to restore hearing and are known as cochlear implants and auditory brain stem implants. A prosthetic device for patients with balance disorders is being perfected and is in an animal model testing phase with another prosthetic device for controlling intractable dizziness in Meniere's patients currently being evaluated in clinical testing. None of this would have been possible without the pioneering studies and discoveries of the investigators mentioned in this review and with the work of many other talented investigators to numerous to be covered in this review. Anat Rec, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.