Born December 12, 1894 Ė October 19, 1972
Patent #: 1,834,580
Philip Drinker invented the first iron lung, a respirator that has helped
save lives, especially those afflicted with polio and other cases of
The invention stemmed from research on methods of resuscitation for victims
of gas poisoning and electric shock. Early models of the respirator
encapsulated the patientís entire body, while later ones provided an opening
through which the head could rest outside of the chamber. Fitting a collar
around the neck of the patient ensured that the chamber itself remained
airtight. A second patent in 1933 improved on the original by providing an
apparatus in which the doctor or nurse could insert their hands to bathe the
patient or change bedding.
The first such artificial respirator was put into use in 1928 to assist the
breathing of a girl who suffered from infantile paralysis. By the 1930s, in
the wake of an outbreak of polio, the respirator was in high demand in
hospitals throughout the nation.
Born in Haverford, Pennsylvania, Drinker graduated from Princeton in
1915. Hired by Harvard as an instructor of industrial hygiene, Drinker
was subsequently employed in Harvardís new School of Public Health in
1923, where he developed and patented the first iron lung.