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Who Invented the Stethoscope?

The stethoscope may be the most common of all medical instruments, but it wasn't created to help doctors diagnose ailments as much as it was to put their patients at ease.

The stethoscope was invented in 1816 to protect the modesty of female patients. Until then, doctors had to place their head against patients' chests to hear the heart beat.

When he developed the stethoscope, Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec was a physician at the Necker Hospital in Paris. His original stethoscope consisted of a hollow tube of wood, one and a half inches in diameter and 10 inches long. It only transmitted sound to one ear.

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, head of Harvard Medical School and an American poet, was an early proponent of the stethoscope. He even penned the satirical poem "The Stethoscope Song" in 1848.

In 1851, a binaural, or double, stethoscope was shown at the Great Exhibition in London. By the end of the century, similar models were standard.

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About the Author

Sean Kelley

Sean Kelley is an award-winning journalist and blogger. His work has appeared on CNN.com, in Health magazine, and in numerous online and print publications.

He lives on a farm in Alabama where he raises tomatoes and honey bees.