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The Marey Sphygmograph

I have recently purchased this extraordinarily beautiful Marey sphygmograph, manufactured by Boulitte in Paris in 1886.

Sphygmos is the Greek word for pulse. A sphygmograph is a medical instrument that records graphically the rise and fall of a pulse and its rate. It was invented in 1854 by a German physiologist Dr Karl von Vierordt (1818-1884). It used a system of levers to amplify the radial pulse. By compressing the radial artery proximally using quantified weights, the disappearance of the pulse allowed the systolic blood pressure to be determined. Although the instrument was cumbersome and its measurements imprecise, the basic concept of the sphygmograph eventually led to the blood pressure cuff used today.

In 1863, Dr Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) made the sphygmograph portable, and used the elastic force of a spring rather than the static force of weights. His sphygmograph was held on the patient's forearm with a cloth band. An ivory plate was positioned on the patient's radial artery (the artery that parallels the radius bone in the arm). As the patient's pulse moved the plate, that motion was transmitted to a stylus which was dipped in ink. The moving stylus traced an ink line representing that motion on a piece of paper, while the paper was pulled forward by a clockwork mechanism. The Marey Sphygmograph became the first instrument of its kind to be widely used in clinical medicine.

Dr Marey, a French scientist and physiologist working in Paris, contributed significantly to cardiology and physical instrumentation, and was a pioneer in photography.

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