Heart of the Matter: World’s First Functional Artificial Heart

Although still far from perfect, artificial hearts are an invaluable resource for patients who would surely die without them. They aren’t exactly commonplace – being reserved for temporary use in people who have no chance of survival otherwise and who are awaiting transplants – but the technology is improving year by year. Everyone who has benefited from an artificial heart has the one in these pictures to thank: it is the world’s first functional artificial heart.

The heart was implanted in a man named Haskell Carp on April 4, 1969. It pumped his blood and kept him alive for nearly three days until a biological donor heart took its place. The amazing contraption looks more like a piece of WWII-era soldier gear than a finely-tuned piece of medical equipment. It is rugged and functional, though not exactly sophisticated-looking.

The world’s first artificial heart now resides in a jar of formaldehyde at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It is not on regular display, but rather kept in one of the vast storage rooms behind the scenes. It’s a shame, because this single piece of medical technology ushered in a whole new era of incredible medical advances in the areas of prosthetics, artificial organs, and various life-extending treatments.

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See more in Antique Gadgets or under Vintage & Retro. October, 2010.