Skip to content

Image of the week: adjusting surgical couch, 1854


The above image shows an 1854 patent specification for an adjusting surgical couch, by Edmund Adolphus Kirby. The specification is part of the Wellcome Library's catalogue of 158 volumes of patents from 1629 to 1875. According to a 2006 announcement (.pdf):

The medical patents date back to the first half of the 18th century and offer ideas for new apparatus and cures. . . .

The Victorian invalid occurs regularly through literature of the time. We have numerous patents for devices to raise and support bed-ridden people (1872), special beds for invalids (1828), tables for them to eat from (1872), devices to move them about and cups with which to feed them while they were still lying down.

. . .Given the Industrial Revolution was changing British life in a major way during this period, with many people performing dangerous and heavy manual work in factories, it is not surprising that there are a significant number of patents for artificial limbs and various types of truss. Other devices included syringes for administering enemas, stomach pumps, inhaling apparatus (for inhalation therapy - popular in the 1860s), “bandages for females” (sanitary towels - in 1868), hearing aids (as early as 1836), artificial eyes, bandages, plasters and respirators (a mask covering the mouth and nose “for breathing in impure atmospheres” such as mines or certain types of factory perhaps).

This image is No. 2 of 6 in a series showing the evolution of medical instruments over time. The images are presented in collaboration with the London-based Wellcome Trust, whose library features visual collections with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science.

Popular posts

AI, Technology & Innovation
Scientists get a new view of digestion

Stanford Medicine researchers and others create a new device to sample the insides of the small intestine, including bile and bacteria.