Humanities › History & Culture History of the Iron Lung - Respirator The first modern and practical respirator was nicknamed the iron lung. Share Flipboard Email Print Iron Lung. Courtesy CDC/GHO/Mary Hilpertshauser History & Culture Inventions Famous Inventions Famous Inventors Patents & Trademarks Invention Timelines Computers & The Internet American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Mary Bellis Inventions Expert Mary Bellis covered inventions and inventors for ThoughtCo for 18 years. She is known for her independent films and documentaries, including one about Alexander Graham Bell. our editorial process Mary Bellis Updated January 08, 2018 By definition, the iron lung is "an airtight metal tank that encloses all of the body except the head and forces the lungs to inhale and exhale through regulated changes in air pressure." According to Robert Hall author of History of the British Iron Lung, the first scientist to appreciate the mechanics of respiration was John Mayow. John Mayow In 1670, John Mayow demonstrated that air is drawn into the lungs by enlarging the thoracic cavity. He built a model using bellows inside which was inserted a bladder. Expanding the bellows caused air to fill the bladder and compressing the bellows expelled air from the bladder. This was the principle of artificial respiration called "external negative pressure ventilation" or ENPV that would lead to the invention of the iron lung and other respirators. Iron Lung Respirator - Philip Drinker The first modern and practical respirator nicknamed the "iron lung" was invented by Harvard medical researchers Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw in 1927. The inventors used an iron box and two vacuum cleaners to build their prototype respirator. Almost the length of a subcompact car, the iron lung exerted a push-pull motion on the chest. In 1927, the first iron lung was installed at Bellevue hospital in New York City. The first patients of the iron lung were polio sufferers with chest paralysis. Later, John Emerson improved upon Philip Drinker’s invention and invented an iron lung that cost half as much to manufacture.