Syringe history

1628: The English physician and anatomist William Harvey (1578 – 1657) develops the theory of the systemic circulation of blood. On the basis of this, one of his arguments is that the bite of a snake quickly has an effect on the entire organism. This was an initial indication that drugs can be distributed purposefully in the body via the blood circulation system too.

1656: Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723), the British architect and astronomer at Oxford University, invents the intravenous injection. The skin is cut first and then the tourniqueted vein is scratched. Goose quills or voluminous enema syringes are used for injection purposes; a bladder containing the injection fluid is attached to them. Wren is supposed to have injected either wine or, according to different reports, an opium solution into the bloodstream of dogs in his tests.

1667: The work “Clysmatica nova” by Johann Sigismund Elsholtz (1623 – 1688), the physician to the Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg, appears. In it, the court physician reports, among other things, about his experiences in medical practice, e.g. following a bloodletting exercise by intravenous injections. Elsholtz has since then been considered to be the first doctor to give people injections not merely for experimental purposes but also for therapeutic purposes, e.g. to reduce patients’ temperature.

1668: The “Dissertatio de chirurgia infusoria“ by the Leipzig doctor Michael Ettmüller (1644 – 1683) is published. His reasons for the intravenous administration of drugs are: inability to swallow, absorption disorders, avoidance of changes to the drugs in the intestines.

1778: Johann Alexander Hemmann (died 1779), a surgeon from Berlin who serves with the Prussian Army, writes in his “Medical-surgical essays”: “No doctor would dare to use intravenous injections any longer without people – whether they belong to the riffraff or not – accusing him of extreme temerity”. The reasons why therapeutic use decreased substantially in the 18th century and was restricted largely to emergency injections, e.g. after poisoning occurred, were less the widespread fear of syringes, the pain suffered by patients or the prevalence of inflammations at the injection point. What was on the contrary most crucial was the risk of thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

1841: The French orthopedic surgeon Charles-Gabriel Pravaz (1791 – 1853) invents the syringe made of glass. The plunger is driven forwards by screwing, so that very exact dosing is possible. The surgeon Louis Jules Félix Behier (1813 – 1876) introduces the name “Pravaz syringe” and encourages use of it. Series production begins in 1853.

1844: The Irish doctor Francis Rynd (1801 – 1861) invents the hollow needle. Solid needles along which the injection fluid runs have been used up to now.

1853: The Scottish doctor Alexander Wood (1817 – 1884) reinvents the syringe by combining the Pravaz syringe with Rynd’s hollow needle. With this syringe, it is possible for the first time to make subcutaneous injections, i.e. the skin can be penetrated without being cut beforehand. The needles were still rather thick, however, and the puncturing process was painful. Dull needles had to be resharpened, while the syringes needed to be boiled and soaked in alcohol every time they were used.

1954: Series production of the first disposable glass syringe with the name “Hypak” begins at the US medical engineering company Becton Dickinson (BD) based in Franklin Lakes / New Jersey. It was developed for the mass polio vaccination of children in the USA.

1955: Roehr Products from Waterbury / Connecticut launches the first disposable plastic syringe in the world, known as “Monoject”. Although they only cost five cents each, the medical community still thinks that it is less expensive to reuse sterilised glass syringes.

1956: The pharmacist Colin Albert Murdoch from New Zealand develops and patents the disposable plastic syringe that is used to this day. It is quick to replace the glass syringe.

1961: Becton Dickinson introduces a disposable plastic syringe (“Plastipak”) too.

1962: Flexible permanent “needles” made of plastic are introduced as a substitute for steel needles that stay in the patient’s vein. The German word for them (“Braunülen”) is taken from the name of their inventor, Bernd Braun (1906 – 1993), a German doctor and chemist.

1980s: Since disposable syringes are not thrown away after use but are in actual fact reused – in developing countries in particular – the World Health Organisation (WHO) encourages the development of safety syringes, which are more widely known as AD syringes (“AD” stands for “auto-disable”). They are designed in such a way that they can only be used once, i.e. they become unusable as soon as they have been used. All UNICEF vaccination campaigns are carried out with AD syringes today.