The monaural (i.e. for one ear) stethoscope was invented in 1816 by René Laennec (1781-1826). This is one of the Museum’s earliest examples and dates to the mid-19th Century.

Modern doctors use binaural stethoscopes with two ear pieces, but the monaural stethoscope is still used today to listen to the heartbeat of unborn babies through their mother’s skin. Laennec is considered to be the father of chest medicine, largely for his invention of the stethoscope as a way to listen to sounds in the chest to diagnose certain illnesses.

The invention of the stethoscope traces back to the use of percussion in medicine as a diagnostic aid. In medical diagnosis in the early 19th Century physicians would place their air to the patients back or chest to listen to the heart. However, in 1816 René Laennec was presented with a female, overweight patient with chest pains. Decorum prevented Laennec from pressing his ear directly to the patient’s chest in order to listen to her heart and lungs. Instead he used several rolled up sheets of paper as a tube to project the sounds. This meant that he could listen to the patient’s chest without making physical contact.

The monaural stethoscope Laennec invented is essentially a modified wooden version of the rolled up paper he first used over two hundred years ago.

These items are on display in the General Practice display case at the George Marshall Medical Museum.