Artifact of the Week: The Sanborn Viso-Cardiette, model 51

By Claire Layton

This is a portable electrocardiograph (ECG or EKG); a machine that essentially prints out a visual representation of a person’s heartbeat. Electrocardiography refers to the process of recording the electrical activity of the heart. This particular machine was made in the 1950s for the York County Hospital in Newmarket, now renamed to the Southlake Regional Health Centre.

The first recording made with an EKG machine was in the mid 19th century, of a frog heart, with the electrodes placed directly on the heart. In 1872 there was the first-ever heart recording without the need for opening the chest. The early EKG machines weighed about 600 pounds. This particular, more portable, model was made by the Sanborn manufacturing company, which was founded by Frank Sanborn in 1917 and bought by Hewlett-Packard in 1961. This model relied on an external power source, there are lead cords and a power cable stored in the protective canvas case for the machine.

Canadian scientists and physicians have long been at the forefront of cardiac research. Though this machine is not Canadian-made, it paved the way for one of the most renowned Canadian inventions of the past century; the cardiac pacemaker, invented in 1950. The pacemaker was developed by physicians Wilfred Bigelow, MD and John C. Callaghan, MD of the University of Toronto along with John Hopps, an electrical engineer and researcher for the National Research Council.


Brusco, S. (2015, 09 16). MedTech Memoirs Magazine. Retrieved 06 30, 2017, from Electrocardiograph (EKG):
Council on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. (1950). Sanborn Viso-Cardiette, Model 51, Accepted. Journal of the American Medical Association , 143 (17), 1487.
IEEE. (2008, 06 30). First External Cardiac Pacemaker, 1950. Retrieved 06 30, 2017, from IEEE Canada: