Health and Fitness

The Little-Known Histories of These 3 Common Medical Instruments

Medical instruments like the stethoscope are used by healthcare professionals in hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies on a daily basis. Increasingly, patients also use these devices in their own homes to monitor their health status. Despite the familiarity of these medical tools, few people are aware of the fascinating history behind their invention. Let’s take a closer look at how three of the most widely recognized medical instruments came into being.


Prior to the invention of the stethoscope, doctors listened to the patient’s heartbeat by placing their ear directly against the chest, a somewhat invasive and imprecise method. In 1816, French physician Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec invented the first stethoscope, which he made using a wooden tube. As it does today, the first stethoscope amplified sounds so that doctors could hear them more clearly, increasing diagnostic accuracy. The stethoscope also made examinations more private and comfortable for the patient. The device was later modified in the 1850s by physicians Arthur Leared and George Cammann, whose work created the first binaural stethoscope that was commercially available. In the late 20th century, the stethoscope was further refined with the advent of electronic stethoscopes and increased sound amplification. Today, some mobile apps include advanced stethoscope features that assist with diagnosis.



The history of crutches is closely tied to that of the walking stick. In fact, the first walking sticks were depicted in ancient Egyptian drawings, and they were used to help an individual with standing. Classic crutches that we recognize today were first patented by Emile Schlick in 1917. Another notable figure in the history of crutches was A.R. Lofstrand, Jr., who introduced crutches that could be adjusted to the patient’s height for increased comfort. Today, underarm, forearm, platform, and leg support crutches are all commonly used.



More commonly known as blood pressure monitors, sphygmomanometers were the first  way of measuring blood pressure in a noninvasive manner. Prior to this, measuring blood pressure required the use of a needle. From the 1860s to 1880s, physicians, including Étienne Jules Marey and Samuel Siegfried Ritter von Basch, worked on early developments for this device. The first modern sphygmomanometer, which used mercury, was invented in 1896 by Scipione Riva-Rocci. It remained in use for many decades and was gradually replaced by the non-mercury manual sphygmomanometers and automated blood pressure monitors that are commonly used today.


These routine medical devices underwent decades of development. Ultimately, they contributed to modern medical advances and allowed doctors to detect disease more accurately, saving many lives.

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