Raise your hand if you know what a sphygmomanometer is. Now raise your other hand if you can spell it without looking. Very good! I confess, I did not know what it was until recently (and we’ll see how many different ways I can spell it before this post is through).

A sphygmomanometer measures blood pressure.  Throughout the 19th century, physicians looked for new and better ways to accurately measure a patient’s blood pressure. The use of mercury in a glass tube was developed early in the century, but the problem of getting and maintaining uniform pressure against the patient’s artery (so that the mercury could do its work) persisted until the mid 1890s, when Scipioni Riva-Rocci added the inflatable cuff that is familiar to us today. For a more detailed explanation of how these devices work (not written by non-medical me), click here.

This circa 1920 Baumanometer Desk Model sphygmomanometer (at left and below) was owned by Dr. Gilcin F. Meadors, Jr. (1915-1989). Dr. Meadors practiced in Damascus from 1955 until the mid 1960s, when he moved to Frederick. In addition to his practical, modern-day equipment, he also collected antique medical devices, of which this would seem to be one. However, the canvas cuff (which closes with hook-and-loop tape) and rubber squeeze bulb are circa 1960 replacements; that, plus the fact that the cuff has Dr. Meadors’ name written on it in ink, could indicate that he used this particular example despite its age. . . or it could mean that he had no more need for the cuff, and wanted his antique piece to look complete. Apparently the mercury Baumanometers were well regarded for their accuracy and reliability, and never needed recalibration. Any patients of Dr. Meadors recognize this piece as one used in his office?

In contrast to the Baumanometer, with its wooden case and hand-inked markings, this plastic and metal German-made Erkameter 280 (right) looks more modern, but both pieces function in very much the same way. This kit as a whole is later than the Baumanometer, but earlier than Dr. Meadors’ replacement cuff; sadly the internet is letting me down, and I haven’t yet figured out when the 280 model was being manufactured and sold. (The company is up to the 3000 model, though, so maybe I can calculate backwards from that?) This piece of equipment was used by Dr. Washington Waters Stonestreet* (1875-1965 ), a Rockville native who practiced medicine in West Virginia from 1906 until his retirement in 1960. This sphygmomanometer, along with many other instruments from his career, was donated by his daughter Ouida Stonestreet MacDonald.  Unfortunately, Dr. Stonestreet did not mark his name anywhere on this instrument, although there’s a metal plaque on the lid for just that purpose.

* This is not “our” Dr. Stonestreet – that would be Edward Elisha – but rather his nephew, son of Dr. E.E. Stonestreet’s brother Thomas. He was probably named for Dr. Washington Waters (1804-1882) of upper Montgomery County, though the reason for this is uncertain.

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