Basic Science

How the stethoscope was invented | Moments of Vision 7

In a Moment of Vision… It’s 1816. A 35-year-old doctor by the name of René Laennec is walking through Paris. He pauses to watch as two children signal to each other across a long piece of wooden board. One child holds the board to her ear. The other scratches the opposite end sending the amplified sound down the length of wood. Later, Laennec is called to assess a young woman with a heart condition.

The patient is purportedly quite well developed and Laennec expresses some hesitation in pressing his ear directly against her chest. Remembering the children with the board, Laennec, in a moment of vision and dignity, tightly rolls a sheet of paper and places one end to his ear and one end over the young woman’s heaving bosom. He is delighted by the clarity of the sound.

Laennec spends the next three years developing and testing various materials and mechanisms before settling on a hollow wooden tube with detachable plug. His device becomes the forerunner to the metal, plastic, and rubber stethoscope we still use today.

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