Friday, November 4, 2011

An Artifact Story

     This is a photo of another artifact which I like to show to visitors.  Unlike the suppository mold I posted about earlier, many people correctly figure out what this is after studying it for a few moments.  Do you think you know what it is?  Don’t read ahead yet if you want to study the photo a little longer!  I'll even help you out a bit and let you know that this object is hollow.

     Did you guess that the object in the photo is an early version of a stethoscope?  It’s a monaural (single ear) stethoscope to be more exact.  The flat end was placed against the patient, and the doctor was able to listen through the cupped end. 

     The first stethoscope was invented in 1816 by a French physician named Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec.  The story goes that Laennec was examining a young woman and was too embarrassed to put his ear to her chest.  He quickly came up with an alternate method.  In his account: 
I recalled a well known acoustic phenomenon: if you place your ear against one end of a wood beam the scratch of a pin at the other end is distinctly audible. It occurred to me that this physical property might serve a useful purpose in the case I was dealing with. I then tightly rolled a sheet of paper, one end of which I placed over the precordium (chest) and my ear to the other. I was surprised and elated to be able to hear the beating of her heart with far greater clearness than I ever had with direct application of my ear. I immediately saw that this might become an indispensable method for studying, not only the beating of the heart, but all movements able of producing sound in the chest cavity."

     And so, the stethoscope was born!

Another wooden monarual stethoscope, which
has been painted black. 
This stethoscope is made of wood and ivory.


     Laennec produced his first stethoscope at home in his workshop.  It was a simple wooden tube at first, but he experimented with different materials and designs.  Other people began making stethoscopes as well and eventually a binaural stethoscope was invented.

George Cammann is credited with designing the binaural model which is the basis for the modern stethoscope.  Does this one look more familiar?

     I am not always so sure that newer models are better though.  Somehow I don’t think the wooden stethoscopes were quite as cold as the modern version my doctors uses!  

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

1 comment:

  1. Re:This stethoscope is made of wood and ivory.

    The stethoscope shown with this caption is a fake.

    A. Peck