History of CPR

CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a method implied to help revive a victim of cardiac arrest, before the medical help arrives. The history of CPR dates back to the 17th century. It was later on promoted to the public to learn the basic rescue breathing and chest compression technique.

18th century

The first resuscitation was sited in Amsterdam, where there were almost 400 deaths per year due to drowning. In august 1767, a few citizens gathered to form the society for Recovery of Drowned Persons, which was the first effort to respond to sudden deaths. They formulated techniques to revive the body. Their techniques were:

  • To instigate warmth in the victim.

  • Trying to remove water from the victim by positioning the victims head lower than the feet and applying pressure to the abdomen.

  • Giving respirations to the victim either with a bellow or with the mouth-to-mouth method.

With the success rate of this society, rescue societies formed up in all part of Europe. These rescue societies were the predecessors for the emergency medical services we have today.

Before the 1950's, the chest-pressure and arm-lift method was proved to be ineffective, to revive a victim. Then in 1954, Elam demonstrated through experiments that exhaled air was enough to give oxygen to the victims lungs and make him start breathing. Despite the initial objections to this technique, rescue breathing was accepted in the 1960's and was adopted by the American Red Cross and other organizations, as the preferred method for resuscitation.

Mouth-to-mouth ventilation:

Mouth-to-mouth ventilation was already known in those times by the midwives and by doctors. It was useful for bringing a lifeless baby to life. It was in 1964 that James Elam, an anesthesiologist, who first applied this technique to an older child in an emergency. On research, with his, two collaborates; Elwyn Brown and Raymond Pas, on postoperative patients he demonstrated that exhaled air blown into the lungs of the victim maintained the sufficient oxygen saturation. Several years after this, Elam met Peter Safar, who joined in his efforts to convince the public that artificial ventilation was effective. Safar experimented on paralyzed individuals to prove that the technique can maintain the required oxygenation. The United States military accepted this and endorsed it in 1957.

Chest compressions:

Stopping of respiration is an obvious sign of death, unlike the blood circulation stops. As a result, the artificial circulation method lacked the importance in resuscitation. Through an accidental discovery made by William Bennet, Guy Knickerbocker and James Jude, formalized the system of chest compressions.

Compression and Ventilation:

In 1962 Gordon along with David Adams, made a 27-minute training film on CPR, they devised the easy to remember A, B and C, standing for airway, breathing and circulation; which is still used today.


In the 1930's, it was a common fact that electric shocks could induce ventricular fibrillation in dogs. In 1947, a professor of surgery, Claude Beck, successfully resuscitated a 14-year old boy, by using the chest massage and an internal defibrillator with alternating current. Paul Zoll developed the external defibrillator, aware of Beck's accomplishment.

AED's were later on added as a part of CPR in the later 1980's. The external defibrillator by Zoll have developed into portable devices that are very simple, so that common man can use them. It has been a long journey, in the history of CPR. Today, the CPR training as well CPR KIT are available to anyone who wants to obtain these skills.