18th-Century Medical Inventions and Advancements

Written by harrison pennybaker
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18th-Century Medical Inventions and Advancements
Oxygen was discovered in the 18th century, having been isolated as a component of air. (BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

The 18th century was an important time for advancements in medical science as several discoveries, instruments, and methods were developed that improved the safety, effectiveness and efficiency of medicine. Many of the inventions and advancements are, in one way or another, still in use today. And while medical knowledge and technology has improved significantly in the years since the 1700s, the 18th century was foundational.

Bifocal Glasses

In 1784, American statesman Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals -- glasses that could simultaneously accommodate and improve both short- and long-distance eye problems. While the invention of bifocals may not immediately seem to be an advancement in medicine, not only did the new glasses ease the lives of those who suffered from certain vision problems, it also made it possible for physicians to practice while wearing only one pair of glasses, speeding up procedures and simplifying their craft.


Late in the 18th century, between 1796 and 1798, English country doctor Edward Jenner developed the idea of vaccination based on his studies of a rare disease, cowpox, in England. Underlying this idea was Jenner's theory of immunity -- the idea that an individual can develop protection against developing a disease by exposure to a small amount of it. In the decades that followed Jenner's development of the theory of immunity, vaccines became increasingly common and, in some cases -- such as Bavaria in 1807 -- compulsory.

The Hospital in America

While the concept of the hospital had existed previously, prior to 1751 there were no hospitals in the United States. Then, the first American hospital was opened, calling itself the Pennsylvania Hospital. The institution was vigorously supported by Benjamin Franklin and local physician Thomas Bond. The hospital, which is still around today, was an innovator in patient care and set standards for future hospitals throughout the United States. Today, the hospital admits more than 25,000 patients each year.


Between 1774 and 1777, English chemist Joseph Priestley and French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, working separately, discovered oxygen and developed knowledge about the gas. Priestley was the first to discover oxygen, isolating it as a component in air. Initially, oxygen was named "dephlagisticated air" by Priestley. Lavoisier -- also known as "the Father of Chemistry" -- renamed the substance "oxygen" several years after Priestley's discovery. Lavoisier also studied it further, developing theories about its role in both respiration and combustion.

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