WLM ID: aiqd | Catalog Record
This is an Emerson Respirator, more commonly known as an “Iron Lung”. An iron lung helps a person breathe when the muscles for breathing are not working normally. John Emerson, an engineer of medical equipment, knew of an iron lung made by Dr. Philip Drinker in 1928, and saw the potential for significant improvements. Emerson built and successfully tested his first model in 1931. It was quieter, lighter and less expensive than Dr. Drinker’s device, and by the 1940s, during polio epidemics, some hospital wards were filled with rows of Emerson’s iron lungs.
Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a viral infection that can cause varying degrees and types of paralysis (loss of the ability to move and control muscles). From the 1930s to the 1950s, the “Iron Lung” saved thousands of people, mostly children, from dying when the muscles needed to breathe were weakened or paralyzed. The iron lung works by mimicking the way the body’s chest muscles and diaphragm move air into and out of the lungs. The patient lies on a bed with his body inside the sealed tank, and his head outside of the tank. The movement of a diaphragm at one end of the tank alternately increases and decreases the pressure inside the tank to above and below the atmospheric pressure outside of the tank. As the pressure increases in the tank, air is forced out of the patient’s lungs through the mouth, and as pressure decreases in the tank, air is drawn into the patient’s lungs.