Laennec's stethoscope, c 1820.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
French physician Rene Theophile Laennec (1781-1826) invented the stethoscope in 1816. This is one of the original stethoscopes belonging to him. Made of wood and bras, it consists of a single hollow tube. The familiar binaural stethoscope, with rubber tubing going to both ears, was not developed until the 1850s. Regarded as the father of chest medicine, Laennec demonstrated the importance of the instrument in diagnosing diseases of the lungs, heart and vascular systems. Ironically, he died of tuberculosis. The stethoscope has come to be symbolic of the new approach to medicine in the 'clinical revolution' at the turn of the nineteenth century.