Respiratory Therapy History

Respiratory therapies were described since the beginning of written language.  The Ancient Egyptians describe inhaling fumes of herbs on heated bricks, and in ancient Indian authors described inhaling herbs burned in crude pipes.  By the early 19th century burning such herbs in cigars and pipes became a common remedy for asthma, and by the late 19th century asthma cigarettes were introduced.  While pressure are considered modern machines, prototypes were invented in the early 19th century.  Tracheotomies were used to create airways as early as 4,000 B.C., and when a crisis of diphtheria hit in 1839, intubation was attempted. While that attempt failed, it inspired later physicians to try again and again, until finally, in 1880, the intubation technique was mastered. Crude nebulizers and inhalers were available in the 19th century, but were never mass produced until the 1930s when electricity was available.  Most of the first nebulizers were expensive and fragile, yet as we travel to the late 20th century they decrease in price, are made of disposable plastic, and become readily available for anyone with a lung disease.  Oxygen was first introduced in the 18th century, some crude devices were available to administer oxygen therapeutically during the 19th century,  and by 1920 an oxygen revolution of sorts occurs.  By the 1940s there were a variety of respiratory therapy equipment, and managing it became overwhelming for doctors and nurses, so the profession of inhalation therapy was born.  At first strong, male orderlies and nurses aides were trained to lug huge tanks and iron lungs around, setting them up for various patients, and taking care of them.  This profession matured into the respiratory care profession.  

Now let's journey back, way back, to the beginning...

Respiratory Therapy History:
(Dates denote when the post will be published.)
  • xAsthma history (our beginning starts here)  Yes!  It all starts with asthma... 
  • xHistory of inhalers and nebulizers  They were not, however, originally prescribed for breathing...
  • x5,000  B.C.: An Egyptians hero thinks about air (11/6/14)
  • x4000-2000 B.C.: The birth of tracheotomy(5/19/15)  
  • x870 B.C.: The first description of artificial resuscitation (8/25/15)
  • x800-400 B.C.: Ancient Greeks define tracheotomy (5/28/15)
  • x124-200 A.D.: Roman physicians describe tracheotomies (6/4/15)
  • x400 B.C. to 1900:  A history of 'vital air' (1/3/13)  The first theories: What keeps us alive?
  • x400-1743:  The first use of the term influenza (8/29/13)
  • x9 B.C.:  The first mouth to mouth respirations (5/19/15)  The first artificial respiration?
  • x1-1619:  Jews, Arabs and Latins practice tracheotomies (and mouth to mouth breathing) (6/9/15)
  • x1213-1644:  The discovery of gases (1/11/13)  (Rewritten)
  • x1500-1750:  TB spreads across the world (rewritten)
  • x1530:  The bellows of Paracelsus (5/21/15)
  • x1546-1783:  Physicians experiment with tracheotomies (6/18/15)  (on asthma history)
  • x1750-1870:  Air is defined (1/18/13)  (on asthma history) (various posts)
  • x1600-1900:  Native American Fumigations (2/3/15)
  • x1654:  Bennet describes the inhaler (8/20/13)
  • x1700-1900: Physicians invent intubation and mechanical ventilation (called evolution of intubation)
  • x1743:  The first mechanical ventilator
  • x1750-1850:  Tuberculosis wreaks havoc (8/27/13)
  • x1765-1874: Tracheotomies recommended for croup (7/7/15)
  • x1774-1922: Humane Society spreads word of Prone, Sylvester Methods artificial breathing 6/30/15)
  • x1774:  Humane Society: Recommended methods for reanimation (9/1/15)
  • x1792:  Curry confirms importance of breathing during artificial during resuscitation (9/3/15)
  • x1774-1829:  Humane Society used intubation, bellows (9/8/15)
  • x1776:  The double chambered bellows of Dr. John Hunter (6/2/15)
  • x1790:  The first feeding tube (5/26/15)
  • x1792: The first attempts at neonatal resuscitation (8/2/15)
  • x1800-1920:  Oxygen cylinders and chambers (1/25/13)
  • x1800-1900:  Oxygen used to treat asthma (2/7/13)
  • x1800-1900:  The birth of the TB sanatorium
  • x1800-1900:  The beginning of pressure therapy (8/5/14)
  • x1800-1900:  Evolution of Artificial Respiration (8/16/14) now early ventilators and intubation devices
  • 1800-1987:  The rise and fall of polio (10/15/13)
  • x1823:  Native American Sweat Houses, an early panacea (2/10/15)
  • x1832:  Dalzeil respirator  added to some early ventilator and intubation devices
  • x1832-1900:  Origins of Negative Pressure Ventilation (9/2/14)
  • x1840:  The first incentive spirometers
  • x1840-1903:  Open air treatment for consumption (Opening of NJHealth)(9/3/14)
  • x1852:  Humane Society recommends new methods of manual breathing
  • x1866: Catologue of stethoscopes (7/17/14)
  • x1870: Bert studies barometric pressure (3/10/16)
  • 1871: Waldenburg's Pneumatometer (8/5/14) (???)
  • x1800-1900:  The beginning of pressure therapy (Part II) (8/12/14) about pneumatometers
  • x1871-1900:  Pneumatometers as Spirometers (9/9/14)
  • x1872:  George Catlin describes Native American Respiratory Therapists (1/15/15)
  • x1873:  The Trendelenburg position is born (10/17/13)
  • x1876:  Woillez Iron Lung (Spirophone) (8/13/15)
  • x1896:  The ideal pulmonary inspiratory (4/16/15)
  • x1898 Matas's Apparatus for Artificial Respiration (8/18/15)
  • x1899:  Bronchitis triggers

  • 1903:  The earliest pressure machines (8/5/14)
  • 1903:  The earliest pressure machines (part II) (8/12/14)
  • 1903:  The earliest pressure machines (part III) (8/26/14)
  • 1900-1950:  Evolution of artificial respiration
  • 1900-1950:  The slow death of a disease called consumption (9/5/13)

Hungry for more?
  1. (Dennis Glover wrote the History of Respiratory Therapy and provides some awesome pictures from the history of respiratory therapy)
  2. inhalatorium (Mark Sanders has a unique collection of antique inhalers, nebulizers and  has shared his collection with us on his website.  Check it out!
  3. See any of the links on any of the above posts
Please note:  This history is a work in progress.  As new material becomes available posts will be updated.  As time becomes available, posts will be edited for grammar, accuracy, etc.  If you see an obvious error, feel free to chime in.  If you have access to further knowledge on any topic, feel free to share.  If you want to use this material for your own research projects, please feel free to do so.  While you are free to quote me, I also recommend you refer to the references listed with each post.  Thanks.  Rick Frea.  


  1. The history of RT is a chronicle of entrepenureship. The only reason the profession exist is that some smart people figured out that one could make a huge profits by providing these services to patients. It took hospital administrators 10-15 years to figure out the impact of Medicare--it took the RT's about 5 years. There was a time when no one knew what RT's did--now everyone thinks they can do it better.

  2. Really helpful article for asthmatic.. We would love to share it to our friend whom their kids have asthma... Asthma need more attention for parents who have kids with asthma

  3. Some patients whom you may view on a daily basis may have symptoms such as lung problems or asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Click here