The stethoscope

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The stethoscope was invented in France in 1816 by René Laennec at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris. It consisted of a wooden tube and was monaural. The first flexible stethoscope of any sort may have been a binaural instrument with articulated joints not very clearly described in 1829. In 1840, Golding Bird described a stethoscope he had been using with a flexible tube. Bird was the first to publish a description of such a stethoscope but he noted in his paper the prior existence of an earlier design (which he thought was of little utility) which he described as the snake ear trumpet.

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In 1851, Irish physician Arthur Leared
invented a binaural stethoscope, and in 1852 George Cammannperfected the design of the instrument for commercial production, which has become the standard ever since. By 1873, there were descriptions of a differential stethoscope that could connect to slightly different locations to create a slight stereo effect, though this did not become a standard tool in clinical practice.
Several other minor refinements were made to stethoscopes, until in the early 1960s Dr. David Littmann, a Harvard Medical School professor, created a new stethoscope that was lighter than previous models and had improved acoustics.

In the late1970s, 3M-Littmann introduced the tunable diaphragm: a very hard (G-10) glass-epoxy resin diaphragm member with an overmolded silicone flexible acoustic surround which permitted increased excursion of the diaphragm member in a “z”-axis with respect to the plane of the sound collecting area. The left shift to a lower resonant frequency increases the volume of some low frequency sounds due to the longer waves propagated by the increased excursion of the hard diaphragm member suspended in the concentric accountic surround. Conversely, restricting excursion of the diaphragm by pressing the stethoscope diaphragm surface firmly against the anatomical area overlying the physiological sounds of interest, the acoustic surround could also be used to dampen excursion of the diaphragm in response to “z”-axis pressure against a concentric fret. This raises the frequency bias by shortening the wavelength to auscultate a higher range of physiological sounds. 3-M Littmann is also credited with a collapsible mold frame for sludge molding a single column bifurcating stethoscope tube with an internal septum dividing the single column stethoscope tube into discrete left and right binaural channels.


In 1999, Richard Deslauriers patented the first external noise reducing stethoscope, the DRG Puretone. It featured two parallel lumens containing two steel coils which dissipated infiltrating noise as inaudible heat energy. The steel coil “insulation” added .30 lb to each stethoscope. In 2005, DRG’s diagnostics division was acquired by TRIMLINE Medical Products.

Types of stethoscopes

- Acoustic
- Electronic
- – Recording stethoscopes
- Fetal stethoscope

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