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Stethoscope History

Stethoscope history began in 1816 with French physician, Dr. Rene Laennec. He described his historical stethoscope invention as follows:

(Stethoscope History, translated from French)
"In 1816 I was consulted by a young woman presenting with general symptoms of disease of the heart. Owing to her stoutness, little information could be gathered by application of the hand and percussion. The patient's age and gender did not permit me to resort to the kind of examination I have described (placing my ear to her chest). 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."

Stethoscope History, Laennec's Invention Drawing
Laennec's stethoscope picture


Dr. Laennec spent the next three years perfecting his stethoscope's historical design and listening to the chest findings of patients with pneumonia, comparing what he heard to their autopsy lung findings. From this he published the first seminal work on the use of the stethoscope to listen to body sounds entitled De L'auscultation Mediate in 1819 at thirty-eight years old. Ironically, Laennec himself died of tuberculosis on August 13th, 1826.

Stethoscope History, Dr.Laennec Dr. Laennec's Stethoscope 1820 Diseased Lung Drawings
rene laennec historical stethoscope lung disease

Stethoscope history further evolved to the biaural two ear stethoscope type in 1852 by the work of American, George Cammann. And most recently, electronic stethoscopes with microphones, amplifiers, and fuzzy logic have been developed but have not been widely adopted to date. And here ends the stethoscope history for now...

Dr. George Cammann c.1855 Cammann Stethoscope Modern Stethoscope Electronic Stethoscope
george cammann
old stethoscope
traditional stethoscope electronic stethoscope


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Helpful Links:

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  • History of Stethoscopes Article
  • Group article on stethoscope origins


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    Last Updated:
    April 22 2016
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