Willem Einthoven

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Willem Einthoven
Willem Einthoven.jpg
Willem Einthoven in 1906
Born (1860-05-21)21 May 1860
Died 29 September 1927(1927-09-29) (aged 67)
Nationality Dutch
Alma mater University of Utrecht
Known for Electrocardiogram
Awards Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1924
Scientific career
Fields Physiology
Institutions University of Leiden

Willem Einthoven (21 May 1860 – 29 September 1927) was a Dutch doctor and physiologist. He invented the first practical electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) in 1903 and received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1924 for it ("for the discovery of the mechanism of the electrocardiogram").[1]


Einthoven was born in Semarang on Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the son of Louise Marie Mathilde Caroline (de Vogel) and Jacob Einthoven.[2] His father, a doctor, died when Einthoven was a child. His mother returned to the Netherlands with her children in 1870 and settled in Utrecht. His father was of Jewish and Dutch descent, and his mother's ancestry was Dutch and Swiss.[3][4][5] In 1885, Einthoven received a medical degree from the University of Utrecht. He became a professor at the University of Leiden in 1886.

In 1902, he became member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[6]

He died in Leiden in the Netherlands and is buried in the graveyard of the Reformed Church at 6 Haarlemmerstraatweg in Oegstgeest.[7]


Before Einthoven's time, it was known that the beating of the heart produced electrical currents, but the instruments of the time could not accurately measure this phenomenon without placing electrodes directly on the heart. Beginning in 1901, Einthoven completed a series of prototypes of a string galvanometer. This device used a very thin filament of conductive wire passing between very strong magnets. When a current passed through the filament, the magnetic field created by the current would cause the string to move. A light shining on the string would cast a shadow on a moving roll of photographic paper, thus forming a continuous curve showing the movement of the string. The original machine required water cooling for the powerful electromagnets, required 5 people to operate it and weighed some 270 kilograms. This device increased the sensitivity of the standard galvanometer so that the electrical activity of the heart could be measured despite the insulation of flesh and bones.[citation needed]

An early ECG device

Although later technological advances brought about better and more portable EKG devices, much of the terminology used in describing an EKG originated with Einthoven. His assignment of the letters P, Q, R, S and T to the various deflections is still used. The term Einthoven's triangle is named for him. It refers to the imaginary inverted equilateral triangle centered on the chest and the points being the standard leads on the arms and leg.[citation needed]

After his development of the string galvanometer, Einthoven went on to describe the electrocardiographic features of a number of cardiovascular disorders. Later in life, Einthoven turned his attention to the study of acoustics, particularly heart sounds which he researched with Dr. P. Battaerd.

In 1924, Einthoven was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for inventing the first practical system of electrocardiography used in medical diagnosis.[8]


  1. ^ "Willem Einthoven". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ The Walbeek Family from Holland:Information about Louise Marie Mathilde Carolien de Vogel. Familytreemaker.genealogy.com (1927-09-29). Retrieved on 2012-07-25.
  4. ^ I6359: Valcherius BOREL (dates unknown). Rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved on 2012-07-25.
  5. ^ Rivera-Ruiz, M; Cajavilca, C; Varon, J (2008). "Einthoven's string galvanometer: the first electrocardiograph". Tex Heart Inst J. 35 (2): 174–78. PMC 2435435. PMID 18612490.
  6. ^ "Willem Einthoven (1860–1927)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  7. ^ Van Ditzhuijzen, Jeannette (September 9, 2005). Bijna vergeten waren ze, de rustplaatsen van roemruchte voorvaderen. Trouw (Dutch newspaper), p. 9 of supplement.
  8. ^ "Willem Einthoven". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 10 August 2011.

Further reading

  • Snellen, Herman Adrianus (1995), Willem Einthoven (1860–1927) Father of Electrocardiography, Life and Work, Ancestors and Contemporaries, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, ISBN 0-7923-3274-1
  • Shouldice RB, Bass G (2002), "From Bench to Bedside – Developments in Electrocardiology" (PDF), The Engineers Journal, Institution of Engineers of Ireland, 56 (4): 47–9
  • The Einthoven Foundation Cardiology Information Portal Historical pictures
  • Nobel prize citation
  • Einthoven's triangle
  • Bibliography in the Virtual Laboratory of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
  • Museum Boerhaave Negen Nederlandse Nobelprijswinnaars
  • A.M. Luyendijk-Elshout, Einthoven, Willem (1860–1927), in Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland.
  • Biography Willem Einthoven (1860–1927) at the National Library of the Netherlands
  • Moukabary, T (2007). "Willem Einthoven (1860–1927): Father of electrocardiography". Cardiology Journal. 14 (3): 316–317.

External links

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