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Hypodermic syringe, Paris, France, 1851-1900

Hypodermic needles came into common use during the second half of the 1800s. This syringe and needle set was made just a handful of years after the hollow needle was invented by Scottish doctor Alexander Wood in 1853 – although French surgeon Charles Pravaz was independently developing a similar device at the same time. Hypodermic needles allow drugs to be injected in the body under the skin. Accompanied by different length needles, this example is made from silver with a glass barrel. Unlike modern syringes, which use a plunger, this syringe works by turning the screw at the top to inject the liquid. This would have been difficult and fiddly and required a skilled operator. The name “Mathieu”, a French surgical instrument maker, is punched into the syringe.

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    Glossary: hypodermic syringe

    A syringe is a simple piston pump consisting of a plunger that fits tightly in a tube. The plunger can be pulled and pushed along inside a cylindrical tube (the barrel), allowing the syringe to take in and expel a liquid or gas through an orifice at the open end of the tube. In modern medicine, a syringe is often fitted with a hypodermic needle to create a hypodermic syringe which is most commonly used for injecting materials directly into the bloodstream.