Among the collections at the Mutter Museum is one of the larger medical devices or instruments from the early days of medicine: an iron lung.
Designed to fit a fully-grown human, the particular iron lung — labeled by museum director Robert Hicks in a YouTube video as one of the museum’s prized possessions— is known as an Emerson negative pressure ventilator. It’s creators wanted to replicate what the body naturally does to assist breathing.
People stricken with polio could experience paralysis that could create an issue in which the lungs fail to expand and contract. The iron lung provides pressure, adjustable to the individual, effectively making you breathe artificially. These devices were used less than 100 years ago when the U.S. and rest of the world fought through polio epidemics.
With ventilators dominating the news, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s intriguing to see how far respiratory treatment technology has come in such a short span of time.