The Artificial Leech


This medical contraption, which perhaps looks more like a torture device, was created in the early to middle 19th century. During this time, the medical practice of blood letting had been popular for treating a multitude of diseases with a questionable amount of effectiveness. The use of leeches in medicine can be dated back to between 1600-1300BC, but leeches are especially recognized for their use during the middle ages. Leeches were used for treating hemorrhoids and phlebitis, which is inflammation of the veins. Leeches were beginning to become a somewhat effective form of treatment, but also an unsanitary form a treatment, which is why the device above was created.

While the design of the artificial leech evolved over time, the original design was created by a German Inventor by the name of Carl Baunscheidt. Baunscheidt’s inventions were mainly in the field of medicine, and there was actually a form of alternative medicine based around his inventions known as Baunscheidtism. This practice of alternative medicine is what really revealed the obscure uses of the artificial leech. When the artificial leech was first invented it was used along with a toxic oil on the part of the skin where the leech would be used. This caused inflammation at the point of entry which was thought to draw the body’s attention away from the original illness, in turn curing the illness. As strange as this practice may seem, it did gain popularity quickly as it was believed to cure a multitude of diseases including whooping cough, toothaches, mental diseases, and of course baldness. Was it in fact a miracle procedure? Or perhaps poor science along with faulty advertisement on the part of Baunscheidt? I would lean toward the latter considering that he was an inventor and business man, not a doctor. However, despite any controversy surrounding Baunscheidt’s product, it was at least an advancement compared to an actual leech. Or was it? 

Now, while many did believe this was an advancement compared to the leech, the artificial leech did have some clear disadvantages compared to an actual leech. A little known fact about leeches is that when they bite they also release an anesthetic into the skin. This makes a leech bite hardly painful at all to a human. Leeches also release something called an anticoagulant. This helps draw blood toward the point of the skin where the leech is biting. The artificial leech, unfortunately, was anesthetic free. It was very painful for patients as it did not have the most effective needles, but rather had small knife like points to draw the blood. The artificial leech did mimic a real leech in the sense that it had a small pump at the top that could be pulled to pull blood to the point of entry. Although the artificial leech is in fact a strange looking contraption, it was quite a medical advancement for the time period, and was more importantly a step toward the lancet and other tools used today to draw blood.


Slightly more advanced form of the artificial leech. Still looks painful.


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