Thomas Jefferson UniversityScott Memorial Library

Medical Instruments in the Archives: What is it?

Welcome to the third week of Medical Instrument Monday from the Archives and Special Collections Twitter page!

This week’s question: What is this item and how was it used?


Answer: This wooden instrument is a late monaural stethoscope from about 1870.

The very first stethoscope was invented by R.T.H. Laennec. In 1816 Laennec was examining a young woman with a heart problem, and rather than press his ear to her chest, which was common practice, he rolled 24 sheets of paper together to create a cylinder. This innovation led to the Laennec stethoscope in 1819 – a solid wooden cylinder with a drilled tube.


The Laennec stethoscope led way for monaural stethoscopes, which were often made of turned wood and were generally 30 centimeters long and 3 centimeters in diameter. Many of the early ear pieces were made of ivory, and over time the ear and chest pieces became more elaborate. By 1850 the monaural stethoscope had been largely replaced by the binaural stethoscope.

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