Laennec's stethoscope, c 1820.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Made of wood and bras, this is one of the original stethoscopes belonging to the French physician Rene Theophile Laennec (1781-1826) who devised the first stethoscope in 1816. 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.