When Ephraim Cutter, Class of 1856, developed “a most earnest desire” to see his own larynx, he got busy and designed a laryngoscope. Cutter thus became part of a tradition of fascination with the human voice and the mechanics behind it.
Manuel Garcia, a Spaniard who was a well-known singing teacher, discovered a way to observe how his own vocal folds moved while singing by using a mirror and illumination by sunlight. He demonstrated this technique on himself at a meeting of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1854; this act, as a news item in a 1905 issue of JAMA declared, laid “the foundation of modern laryngology.”
Cutter had heard of Garcia’s demonstration and had seen Prague native Johann Nepomuk Czermak, a physiologist, perform the technique on himself in Paris in 1856 using a more advanced version of Garcia’s laryngoscope.
A physician, a singer, and a physiologist, each with his own reasons to learn more about the larynx and vocal folds, put a personal stamp on the field of laryngology.
Photo: John Soares/courtesy of the Boston Medical Library