Marsh Binaural Stethoscope

Marsh Binaural Stethoscope

<< >>
Usage conditions apply
The Marsh binaural stethoscope has three ebony bells in graduating sizes and a turned wooden obturator. When the stethoscope was connected there were two narrow tubes which extended from the larger hard rubber center tube. The ear pieces are missing. The stethoscope is housed in a rectangular wooden case with a hinged lid. The case has two brass closure hooks, one of which is broken. The interior of the case is molded to accommodate each piece of the stethoscope and is lined with red velvet.
The stethoscope, U.S. Patent 8591, was developed by Nathan B. Marsh (1817-1820?-1862), of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1851. The donor Dr. Palmer is a direct descendent of Nathan Marsh. The stethoscope is made from ebony and hard rubber and housed in a rectangular wooden case lined with faded red velvet. The stethoscope is marked “Improved Stethoscope Patented by N.B. Marsh M.D. Dec 16 1851 Cincin”.
Dr. Nathan B. Marsh was born between 1817 and 1820 in Newark, New Jersey and moved with his family to Cincinnati. Besides the stethoscope he received the following four patents; Hydrant in 1859, two improved water meters and a Method of Meat Tenderizing (a process for preserving meat) by injecting preservatives into the body of cattle and pigs. He died in Texas of an accidental poisoning.
The instrument most associated with the medical profession, the stethoscope is a diagnostic tool used by medical professionals to listen to the sounds of congestion in the lungs and irregular heartbeats emanating from the patient’s chest. The word stethoscope comes from the Greek words for chest (stethos) and “to view” (scope). In a quest for the ideal instrument physicians experimented with different configurations of the tube and materials, various woods, metal, rubber and even sugar cane.
Although Marsh was the first to receive a patent for a binaural stethoscope, his was not the most successful instrument. Numerous attempts to invent a practical binaural stethoscope were not successful. In 1852, Dr. George Cammann (1804-1863), of New York devised the first successful binaural stethoscope, which has become the standard ever since. Cammann chose not to patent his stethoscope. Cammann believed medical advances should be shared with everyone.
Family stories about Marsh have come down through his family. Photocopies of two handwritten letters 1959 and 1962 indicate that Marsh was the first Superintendent of the Cincinnati County Home about 1854. It is not known if and where he went to medical school.
Currently not on view
Object Name
stethoscope set
date made
About 1850
About 1851
overall: 7.2 cm x 30 cm x 13.2 cm; 2 13/16 in x 11 13/16 in x 5 3/16 in
overall: 2 7/8 in x 11 3/4 in x 5 1/2 in; 7.3025 cm x 29.845 cm x 13.97 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Richard C. Palmer, M.D.
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object