Throughout most of human history, people have sought the ability to restore breath into the bodies of those without. The artificial respiration experiments of the past century that resulted in the development of the iron lung were focused specifically on victims of paralytic poliomyelitis.

The devices and theories used in these experiments were built upon ideas that came about mostly during late eighteenth-century movements in Western Europe that were focused on the recovery of the apparently drowned, or dead through artificial respiration.1

At first, the doctors involved in the movements established some basic methods of resuscitation, including: warmth, inflation (very similar to modern rescue breathing), fumigation, friction, stimulants, bleeding a vein, and vomiting. Within nearly 50 years, most of these methods had been removed from practice. Popular support of these methods led to greater scientific exploration into effective resuscitation and artificial respiration methods.2

This exhibit explores the development of the iron lung during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and considers the reasons for its success during the height of the poliomyelitis epidemics. Andrew Sallans, Historical Collections Specialist, researched and compiled the content for the online and physical exhibits. The design of the online exhibit was conceived and executed by Steve Stedman, Webmaster for the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library.

Next: Early Artificial Respiration