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The Equipment of Dr Augustus Waller (1887)

In May 1887 Dr Augustus Desiré Waller, head of the department of physiology at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, recorded the first human electrocardiogram at St Mary’s London, using the Waller ECG Train apparatus. It consists of a photographic plate mounted on the chassis of a hand made toy train. The train moved slowly on its track, pulled by brass gearing. The cardiac potentials were obtained with a Lippman electrometer, and a beam of light from its mercury column was projected on to the photographic plate which was protected by a wooden slide until the recording was made in a dark room. Waller demonstrated his ECG method at lectures using his dog, dipping his legs in pots of saline which served as the electrodes.


Image References

The original recording from the Journal of Physiology (1887), 8, 229. The upper trace is the apex beat and the electrocardiogram is depicted at the black and white interface. The ECG deflections point downwards. Atrial activity is not present in this tracing.


The capillary electrometer invented by Gabriel Lippman, Berlin, 1873, was the first device to record electrical activity reliably. Lippman also developed a photographic method of producing a permanent record of the changes in potential. Lippman’s method remained in use for over 20 years, but a breakthrough came when Willem Einthoven, working in Leiden, the Netherlands, invented the string galvanometer in 1901. This device was more sensitive than the capillary electrometer Waller had used. Einthoven assigned the letters P, Q, R, S, and T to the various deflections.