- Education and Science»
- History & Archaeology»
- Major Inventions & Discoveries
Invention of the Stethoscope
The Stethoscope A Common Medical Instrument
In all of medicine there is probably one common instrument that is used by all in the medical profession, and that is the stethoscope. When you see a person walking around in street clothes, but they have a stethoscope around their neck, you know they are a health care provider.
The stethoscope was invented by a French physician in 1816, named Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec. With the stethoscope he was able to hear the sounds made by the heart and lungs. Many of the clinical definitions used today were introduced by Laennec.
The word stethoscope comes from two Greek words. Stethos means chest and skopein means to explore.
The Invention of the Stethoscope
It is a very interesting story about how the stethoscope was invented. It all started on a cool morning in September of 1816. Laennec was 35 years old at the time anad while on a walk he saw two children playing with a long piece of solid wood and a pin. One child put their ear to one end of the pole and the other child scratched the opposite end of the pole with a pin. The child who put their ear to the pole had the sound of the pin amplified.
A few month later, Laennec was treating a young woman who was overweight with heart problems. He was embarrassed to put his ear to her chest to listen to her heart, as was common at the time. He remembered the children and the pole, so he took a tightly rolled piece of paper and placed it over the patient’s chest and his ear to the other end. He was pleasantly surprised that he could hear her heat beating clearer even than if he listened with his ear to her chest.
It took Laennec three years of testing an assortment of materials to perfect his design so that he could hear patients with pneumonia. He used a hollow piece of wood, which could be assembled and disassembled for portability. This led to the modern design of the stethoscope we know today.
Invention of the Stethoscope
A Doctor and a Stethoscope
Laennec was able to come to many accurate conclusions about the heart and lungs, which were later supported by observations made during autopsies. Wooden stethoscopes were used until the mid 1800’s. When rubber tubing was invented, the stethoscope became both flexible and portable.
Laennec was born in Brittany, France, February 17, 1781. When he was five years old, his mother died of tuberculosis. His father was a lawyer and sent Laennec to live with his great uncle. When Laennec was twelve years old he went to live with a different uncle who was a doctor, and inspired him to become a physician.
Laennec's Impact on Medicine
Laennec’s invention of the stethoscope made a very big impact on medical diagnoses. He also gave cirrhosis of the liver its names. While Laennec was a medical student, he was the first person to lecture about melanoma in 1804, and his lecture was published in 1806.
Laennec died in 1826 of tuberculosis, and bequethed his scientific papers and stethoscope to his nephew, which he knew would always be part of his legacy.
Through the invention of the stethoscope, doctors were and still are able to make more accurate physical exams and diagnoses. To this day, the stethoscope continues to help the advancement of medicine.