CPR and the First Defibrillator- Drs. Kouwenhoven, Jude and Knickerbocker

CPR and the First Defibrillator- Drs. Kouwenhoven, Jude and Knickerbocker

Cross Posted: EMS Personnel; Equipment; Timeline; Places; Biographies; By Era; Patient Care Equipment; Teachers; Curriculum
Submitter/Author: Mark Peck EMT-P

Johns Hopkins Celebrates 50 Years of CPR
The Story of Drs. Kouwenhoven, Jude and Knickerbocker


Dr. Jude, Dr. Kouwenhoven, Dr. Knickerbocker      A heart stops, setting in motion the entire Chain of Survival- Early 911 Access, Early CPR, Early Defibrillation, and Early Advanced Care.
It all starts with the three gentlemen on the right- Dr. James Jude, Dr. William Kuowenhoven, and Dr. Guy Knickerbocker.

 Dr. Kouwenhoven and Dr. Knickerbocker invent the defibrillator in 1957, discover the benefit of closed chest compression with Dr. James Jude in 1958, and adding Dr. Peter Safars' work with rescue breathing , create CardioPulmonary Resuscitation in 1960



 WILLIAM B. KOUWENHOVEN (January 13, 1886 - November 10, 1975) 

    Kouwenhoven was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 13, 1886, graduated '06 with a degree in electrical engineering from Polytechnic University, and then joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Engineering in 1914 as a professor of electrical engineering.

    The first investigations were done on rats in 1928. They found that high voltage shocks from electrodes placed on the head and one extremity would stop breathing and the heart from pumping. They also tried to massage the chests of the rats, as recommended by a German physician, Dr. Boehn, but this only resulted in paralysis of the rats from crushed cervical spines. By 1933, their work on dogs showed that an alternating electrical current applied directly to the heart could restore the heartbeat but this method required opening the dog’s chest, which was difficult and less than desirable. In the late 1940s this method of open chest heart re-starting (defibrillation) became used on human patients quite regularly because it was the only option available to save patients’ lives.

    Kouwenhoven concentrated on developing a method to shock the heart without opening the chest. His research was put on hold during World War II, but by 1957, Kouwenhoven and his team had perfected the defibrillator, consisting of a small box and two insulated cables with copper electrodes. Johns Hopkins Hospital immediately began using the device as a standard treatment for cardiac arrest.

  First Kouwenhoven Defibrillator

   In 1958, William Kouwenhoven’s laboratory had received funding from the Edison Electric Institute and National Institute of Health to develop a portable defibrillator that would be useful for electric companies to treat their utility linemen who suffered electrocution. Knickerbocker was a dedicated researcher, coming in to conduct experiments even on weekends. Guy Knickerbocker, working toward his PhD in electrical engineering, started in Kouwenhoven’s laboratory on defibrillator experiments in 1954. One Saturday he made the crucial observation that a brief, temporary rise in blood pressure occurred when the heavy defibrillator paddles were applied to the chest wall of a dog whose heart had stopped beating. Knickerbocker told Dr. James Jude, a cardiac surgeon about his finding. Dr. Jude immediately recognized the significance of the observation- once a heart had stopped, forceful, rhythmic chest compressions could cause blood to move through the body, keeping vital organs alive!

    Kouwenhoven and Knickerbocker worked with cardiac surgeon, James Jude to test this life sustaining theory on many patients for over a year before announcing the results of their discovery: Chest compressions could maintain 40% of a patient’s normal circulation when their heart had stopped beating. This was combined with mouth to mouth resuscitation to become universally known as Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.  They also found that they could extend the time to successful defibrillation and survival of a dog to over an hour with external massage by way of chest compressions. The first documented, successful case of their method being used on a human patient, a 35 year old woman, was in July 1959. Recalled by Jude: "She was rather an obese female who … went into cardiac arrest as a result of flurothane anesthetic. This woman had no blood pressure, no pulse, and ordinarily we would have opened up her chest. Instead, since we weren’t in the operating room, we applied external cardiac massage. Her blood pressure and pulse came back at once. We didn’t have to open her chest. They went ahead and did the operation on her, and she recovered completely."

    For his remarkable contributions to cardiology, in 1969 Kouwenhoven received the first-ever honorary Doctor of Medicine from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.


G. Guy Knickerbocker (1932 - ) 

     Guy Knickerbocker began working toward his PhD in electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the laboratory of William Kouwenhoven in 1954. Knickerbocker’s hard work and persistence paid off, because it was his key observation that led to the development of devices to restart a stopped or trembling heart and a method to sustain circulation long enough to save lives. “ A chance observation to a fertile young mind.” – James Jude, M.D.

    In the early 1960s Dr. Kouwenhoven and either Dr. Jude or Knickerbocker travelled the United States and Puerto Rico presenting their method of external cardiac massage, combined with mouth to mouth resuscitation to result in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Sometimes during the teaching presentations, Knickerbocker would expose his chest, lie down and become the model for the others to demonstrate on.

    Knickerbocker’s dedication to the perfection and promotion of CPR also had a personal connection; his father had CPR performed on him successfully when his heart stopped beating in 1963 while recovering from a heart attack.




James Jude (June 7, 1928 - ) 

    James Jude left the University of Minnesota when he married, and began his training at Johns Hopkins since it was in Baltimore, the home of his wife. His research at Hopkins in the mid 1950s focused on the rate that a body should optimally be rewarmed following hypothermia. Jude conducted his experiments in a new laboratory just down the hallway from William Kouwenhoven’s laboratory which was studying the effects of electricity on humans. Kouwenhoven, with the help of his graduate student, Guy Knickerbocker, was developing an external defibrillator, which would be very useful in restarting the hearts of Jude’s hypothermic rats.

    Jude was in the laboratory one Saturday when Knickerbocker mentioned an observation that he had while conducting his defibrillation experiments. He told him how he detected a brief, temporary rise in blood pressure when the heavy copper electrodes were applied to the chest wall of a dog whose heart had stopped beating. Dr. Jude immediately recognized the significance of the observation, it was external cardiac massage!

    Jude, Kouwenhoven and Knickerbocker quickly expanded the research experiments to determine if forceful, rhythmic pressure on the chest could cause enough blood to move through the body to sustain the vital organs. After a year of careful studies, they found that by performing external cardiac massage, they could extend the time to successful defibrillation and survival of a dog to over an hour! The team presented their results to the director of the Department of Surgery, who gave permission for clinical trials. The first documented human success of their method was in July 1959 on a 35 year old woman.

    Their results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1960, reporting a 70% survival and discharge rate from the hospital. The duration of chest compressions ranged from less than 1 minute to over an hour. The JAMA article was very straightforward: chest compression buys time until the external defibrillator arrives on the scene. "Anyone, anywhere, can now initiate cardiac resuscitative procedures. All that is needed is two hands" – JAMA 1960.

    In the early 1960s Drs. Jude and Kouwenhoven travelled the nation presenting their method of CardioPulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). In 1962 the training video, "The Pulse of Life” was created by Jude, Knickerbocker and Dr. Peter Safar and DR. Archer Gordon. The film was used in CPR classes and viewed by millions of students. For the film, Gordon and Adams devised the easy to remember mnemonic of A, B & C standing for the sequence of steps in CPR, airway, breathing, circulation, which is still used today. 

   Kouwenhoven,Jude and Knickerbocker received the Hektoen Gold Medal of the American Medical Association for their work.

    Dr. James Jude MD still practices thoracic surgery and general surgery in Miami and Oakland Park, Florida.  


Development of Portable Defibrillator- Kouwenhoven and Knickerbocker-1962

Keywords: CPR, defibrillator, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Kouwenhoven,Jude,Knickerbocker,Safar,Johns Hopkins

Last Revision Date: 8/16/11 - 2:24 PM

1 Memory Shared

Report AbusePosted by annemariepontis@gmail.com on Sunday, April 01, 2012 07:56 AM Pacific
I made a heart(cardiac) arrest at the age of two in the France- Etats-Unis Memorial Hospital in Saint-Lo I think the doctors used a defibrillator that was close to the Kouwenhoven's one and i am still alive ! Thank you Mr Kouwenhoven !

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