Respirator [Iron Lung]

Maker and role
Fred Jacobs, Designer
Bill Jacobs, Maker
Production date
Circa 1935
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Object detail

Accession number
Production period
Iron Lung made of cast iron, painted white with two circular 'port hole' windows, hinged, on either side, and one additional window at top. Hole at end for head is lined with brown leather. Iron lung stands on four wheels with a frame attaching wheels to body. Frame support at head of machine, presumably to hold up patient's head. Machine tapers towards end and has one smaller port hole window at end. Inside is brown leather padding.
Brief History
The iron lung machine was invented in 1927 by Phillip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw Jr at the Harvard School of Public Health, to assist those so affected by polio that their chest muscles were paralysed so that they were unable to breath unaided. The prototype iron lung was described as a huge metal box with a set of vacuum cleaners attached at one end to pump air in and out.
Significant outbreaks of polio occurred in New Zealand between 1914 and 1956. Despite the proven ability of the iron lung to save lives, the Depression of the 1930s meant that US-built iron lungs were not easily accessible, so health departments in countries around the world turned to their own engineers to come up with cheaper alternatives. The iron lung in MOTAT’s collection was designed by Fred Jacobs, the Chief Engineer for the Auckland Hospital Board, and built in the Auckland Hospital workshops around 1935. It is the first iron lung to have been used in New Zealand. The pump for this iron lung was a large-capacity milking plant vacuum pump that is attached to a motor with variable speed gears.
The iron lung was retired from use at Auckland Hospital around 1950. New Zealand began immunising against the polio virus in 1961 and the last case of “wild” polio virus was recorded here in 1977.
Credit Line
Fred Jacobs et al. Circa 1935. Respirator [Iron Lung], 1964.163. The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).


Public comments

Hi, The iron lung was designed by my grandfather Frederick Jacobs who was the Chief Engineer at Auckland Hospital. It was built by his son, my father Cecil (Bill) Jacobs in workshop.

- Peter Jacobs posted 3 years ago.

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