Polio Place

A service of Post-Polio Health International

Philip A. Drinker, PhD

Born: December 12, 1894
Died: October 19, 1972

Major Contribution:

Drinker and his colleague, Louis A. Shaw, successfully revived a comatose girl of 8 who had polio by placing her in their Drinker respirator or "iron lung." She died a few days later of pneumonia, but, in 1928, the concept of external assisted ventilation was established.

Other Information:

Brief Biography: Born in Haverford, Pennsylvania, Drinker attended Princeton University, and then obtained a degree in chemical engineering from Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the home of his childhood. After service in the army and two years in industry, he joined Harvard Medical School's newly developing program, in industrial health. He studied dust retention in the lungs and was a joint author of the standard textbook, Industrial Dust.

There were earlier inventors/experimenters of tank respirators. It is surmised that the Drinker respirator was successful because of the availability of electricity (1928), the polio epidemics and their documentation of their work.

Upon his death, he was acknowledged as one of the great pioneers and teachers of industrial hygiene. 

Location of Papers: Drinker material can be found at Harvard Medical School Faculty and Staff Portrait Collection: D-W, ca. 1774-2001: A Finding Aid.

See also the link from the University of Virginia, Claude Moore Health Science Library, for a historical review of the 1929 Drinker respirator.

Major Articles: Philip A. Drinker, PhD

A Practical Mechanical Respirator, 1929: The "Iron Lung."  Meyer, J.A.  Annals of Thoracic Surgery, September 1990; 50(3): 490-3.

The Use Of A New Apparatus For The Prolonged Administration Of Artificial Respiration. A Fatal Case Of Poliomyelitis. (Landmark article May 18, 1929). Drinker, P. (father), McKhann, C.F., Drinker, P. (son). JAMA, March 1986; 21:255 (11): 1473-5.

Landmark Perspective: The Iron Lung. First Practical Means Of Respiratory Support. Drinker, P.A., McKhann, C.F. the 3rd. (1986). JAMA, March 1986; 21;255 (11):1476-80.

Philip Drinker. [No author listed] American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, May 1973; 34(5):179-81.

Scotland's First Iron Lung. Porter I.A., Williams M.J. Scottish Medical Journal, August 1997; 42(4):122-4.

The Construction Of An Emergency Respirator For Use In Treating Respiratory Failure In Infantile Paralysis. Drinker, P., Edgar L.R. The Journal of Pediatrics, 1938; 13.1: 71-74.

Apparatus for Prolonged Administration of Artificial Respiration: Design for Adults and Children. Drinker P., Shaw L.A. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 1929; 7: 229.

Types of Respiratory Failure in Poliomyelitis. Indications for Use of the Drinker Respirator. Wilson, J.L. New England Journal of Medicine, 1931; 205:597.

A Case of Respiratory Paralysis in Poliomyelitis Successfully Treated in a Respirator. Favill, J., Fentress, T.L. JAMA, 1931: 97: 1464.

Results of the Use of the Drinker Respirator in 30 Cases of Respiratory Failure in Poliomyelitis. Wesselhoeft, C., Smith, E.C. New England Journal of Medicine, September 1932; 207:559.

Acute Anterior Poliomyelitis: Preliminary Report. Kramer, B., New York State Journal of Medicine, July 1932; 32: 855.

Acute Anterior Poliomyelitis; Treatment of Bulbar and High Spinal Types. Wilson, J.L. New England Journal of Medicine, April 1932; 206:887.

Respiratory Failure in Poliomyelitis; Treatment with the Drinker Respirator. Wilson, J.L. American Journal of Diseases of Children, June 1932; 43:1433.

Poliomyelitis with Special Reference to the Drinker Respirator Therapy. Stoesser, A.V., Sako, W.S. Minnesota Medicine, July 1938; 21:455.

Poliomyelitis Including Artificial Aids to Respiration. Gauvain, H., Symonds, C.P. Treatment Medical Society of London, January 1939: 62:109.

Respiratory Failure and the Drinker Respirator in Poliomyelitis. Smith, E. JAMA, May 1933: 100:1666.


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