EKG HISTORY

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History of the EKG Machine

What is today known as the EKG (alternately ECG) or "electrocardiography machine" (alternately "electrocardiogram"), has a long and distinctive history that first begin in the late 1700s with the introduction of a device called the "galvanometer." This device sensed electrical current but was not able to measure it. A few years later, a modification added a dual position switch that allowed electrical current measurement. The device's name was then changed to the "rheotome," or "flowslicer." Further modifications introduced interval variances - and resulted in the first recorded EKG readings, which were taken by placing electrodes directly on frog hearts.

However, there were frustrations with a reported lack of sensitivity in the rheotome, and in the late 1800s, the more sensitive "capillary electrometer" was born. This device allowed for the important discovery that the human heart's electrical pulsations could be recorded externally - in other words, there was no need to put the electrodes directly on the heart in order to obtain an accurate measurement. A gentleman by the name of Augustus De'sire' Waller thus gained the honor of naming the precursor to what we today called the electrocardiogram, a composite of what Waller first named the "electrogram" and later the "cardiogram."

In the early 1900s, a scientist named Einthoven put Waller's two names together into "electrocardiogram." This was the name he gave to a further development which he at first named the string galvanometer, which he developed from what he had learned from attempts to use the capillary electrometer without satisfactory results. Einthoven's device was picked up for manufacture by Edelmann and Sons in Munich, Germany, and Einthoven later allowed Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company, Ltd. in London, England, to take over manufacturing duties. The United States saw its first EKG equipment when an Edelmann manufactured EKG was brought over in 1909.

In 1914, an American joined in the rounds of revision and expansion of the now collective vision for the EKG. A professor by the name of Horatio Williams designed the first American made EKG machine, and a gentleman named Charles Hindle manufactured it. This EKG machine was so accurate that it was able to pick up severe electrical disturbances to the heart such as acute anterior infarctions - so much so that medical knowledge had to work to keep up with its revelations. It was also during this time that the size and weight of what was still intermittently called the "string galvanometer" and the "EKG," was greatly reduced - from over 600 pounds to less than 30 pounds. Modification of the electrodes was soon to follow, with a size-reduced strap on electrode that was later replaced by a silver German-made direct-contact plate electrode. A suction electrode followed, which was the precursor to the suction cup electrode used today in 12-lead EKG equipment. The last modifications were to the vacuum tubes, and the direct writing instruments that are in today's EKG machines. The EKG machine has had many transformations through the years.

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