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Drinker-type iron lung respirator, London, England, 1930-1939

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Named after its inventor, Philip Drinker (1894-1972), this is an example of one of the first iron lungs or cabinet respirators. First used in 1928, in the United States, iron lungs were originally developed to treat gas inhalation victims, but were also used extensively to treat patients whose chest muscles were paralysed from diseases such as polio. Patients were encased in the large, heavy cabinet. Air at alternating pressures was pumped into the chamber causing the lungs to inflate and deflate so the person could breathe. Brought to the United Kingdom in 1930, the Drinker iron lung was only made by one company, Siebe Gorman & Co. Ltd. They were experts in making air tight chambers for divers. By the late 1930s, the Drinker iron lung was replaced in the United Kingdom by a modified version, known as the Both iron lung.

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Glossary: polio

An infectious disease affecting the central nervous system. Affected individuals can exhibit a range of symptoms if the polio virus enters the blood stream.

Glossary: iron lung

An airtight cylinder which a person lies in who is unable to breathe. The air pressure is alternatively raised and lowered, producing suction that causes lungs to inflate and pressure that deflates the lungs. This mimics the breathing process.