Convertible Monaural Stethoscope

Wood, Circa 1860

Artifact Collection, Medical Heritage Center

The stethoscope is an acoustic medical device for auscultation, or listening to the internal sounds of the body. It is used to listen to lung and heart sounds as well as to listen to intestines and blood flow in arteries and veins.

Initially heart sounds were auscultated by placing the ear directly on the chest of the patient. For the sake of convenience and propriety, in 1816 Dr. Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec rolled up several sheets of paper and placed one end over the patient’s heart and the other end over his ear. Laennec was a skilled wood turner and later replaced the rolled paper with a wooden tube. For his invention of the stethoscope, Laennec is considered the father of chest medicine.

In the early 1850’s there was a rush of designs for a new stethoscope that used both ears. In 1851, Arthur Leared invented a binaural stethoscope, and in 1852 George Cammann perfected the design of it for commercial production.

Stethoscopes are often considered as a symbol of the doctor’s profession, as doctors are often seen or depicted with a stethoscope hanging around their neck.