Philip Drinker (December 12, 1894 – October 19, 1972) was an American industrial hygienist. With Louis Agassiz Shaw, he invented the first widely used iron lung in 1928.[1][2]

Philip Drinker
BornDecember 12, 1894
DiedOctober 19, 1972(1972-10-19) (aged 77)
Engineering career
ProjectsIron lung

Family and early life


Drinker's father was railroad man and Lehigh University president Henry Sturgis Drinker;[1] his siblings included lawyer and musicologist Henry Sandwith Drinker, Jr., pathologist Cecil Kent Drinker,[2] businessman James Drinker, and biographer Catherine Drinker Bowen.[1] After graduating from St. George's and Princeton in 1915,[1] Philip Drinker trained as a chemical engineer at Lehigh for two years.[1]

Drinker was hired to teach industrial illumination and ventilation at Harvard Medical School[1] and soon joined his brother Cecil and colleagues Alice Hamilton and David L. Edsall on the faculty of the nascent Harvard School of Public Health[2] in 1921[2] or 1923.[1] He studied, taught, and wrote textbooks and scholarly works on a variety of topics in industrial hygiene;[2] the iron lung itself was originally designed in response to an industrial hygiene problem—coal gas poisoning[2]—though it would become best known as a life-preserving treatment for polio. Charles Momsen credited Drinker "and his friends" for their assistance with gas-mixture experiments that ultimately made possible the rescue of the survivors of the USS Squalus in 1939.[3]

During World War II, Drinker directed the industrial hygiene program for the United States Maritime Commission.[1] He also arranged and participated in a survey of four shipyards in 1945 to evaluate exposure to asbestos dust during the installation of asbestos-containing insulation. The study had many limitations: 1) The investigators used a non-standard means of collecting and quantitating asbestos dust, key details of which were not disclosed, and 2) Almost all of the shipyard insulators studied were recent hires, 95% had worked as insulators for less than 10 years, many for less than 5 years. Asbestosis, the disease they were concerned with, typically takes 15-20 years of exposure to asbestos dust to manifest. Despite these limitations, the key conclusion of the "Fleischer-Drinker" study was that "...pipe covering is not a dangerous occupation."[4] This was probably the single biggest misstatement in occupational medicine and industrial hygiene history.

Thus, for the next twenty years the Navy failed to effectively protect its shipyard workers from asbestos, leading to tens of thousands of cases of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Only in the mid-1960s did the Navy and others start to repudiate this defective conclusion.[5] Subsequently, this report has been used by many attorneys to argue that nobody could have known that asbestos insulation work was dangerous until further studies finally appeared in 1964-5. [6]

After the war, Drinker advised the Atomic Energy Commission.[1]

Drinker served as editor-in-chief of The Journal of Industrial Hygiene for over thirty years[1] and, in 1942, as president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, to which he had belonged since its inception.[2]

He retired from Harvard in 1960[2] or 1961.[1] Drinker received the Donald E. Cummings Award from the American Industrial Hygiene Association in 1950.[7] He was later inducted into the US National Inventor's Hall of Fame in 2007.

A Drinker iron lung

He and his wife Susan[8] had a son, bioengineer Philip A. Drinker,[9] and 2 daughters, Susan Drinker Moran (1926-2010), author, and Eliza Scudder, educator.


  • Shaw, LA; Drinker, P (1929). "An Apparatus for the Prolonged Administration of Artificial Respiration: I. A Design for Adults and Children". J Clin Invest. 7 (2): 229–47. doi:10.1172/JCI100226. PMC 434785. PMID 16693859.
  • Shaw, LA; Drinker, P (1929). "An Apparatus for the Prolonged Administration of Artificial Respiration: II. A Design for Small Children and Infants with an Appliance for the Administration of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide". J Clin Invest. 8 (1): 33–46. doi:10.1172/JCI100253. PMC 424606. PMID 16693884.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science (2011). "Philip Drinker '17". Distinguished Alumni: Great Talents & Bright Minds. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Lehigh University. Archived from the original on June 15, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Sherwood, RJ (1973). "Obituaries: Philip Drinker 1894–1972". The Annals of Occupational Hygiene. 16 (1): 93–4. doi:10.1093/annhyg/16.1.93.
  3. ^ Momsen, Charles B. "Rescue and Salvage of U.S.S. Squalus." Lecture delivered to the Harvard Engineering Society on October 6, 1939. Text available online. Accessed March 17, 2007.
  4. ^ A Health Survey of Pipe Covering Operations in Constructing Naval Vessels, Walter E. Fleischer, Fredrick J, Viles Jr., Robert L. Glade, Philip Drinker, Journal of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology, Vol. 28(1), 1946,
  5. ^ Asbestos Exposure During Naval Vessel Overhaul, William T. Marr, American Industrial Hygiene Journal, Vol. 25, May-June 1964, pp. 264-268
  6. ^ The Occurrence of Asbestosis Among Insulation Workers in the United States, I. J. Selikoff, J. Chung, E. C. Hammond, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 32(1), Biological Effects of Asbestos, December, 1965, p. 139-155
  7. ^ "Donald E. Cummings Memorial Award". January 28, 2016. Archived from the original on January 28, 2016. Retrieved November 1, 2022.
  8. ^ "Philip Drinker." American Industrial Hygiene Association journal. May 1973: 34(5), 179-181. Available online by subscription.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Sallans, Andrew. "iron lung." online exhibit. Archived March 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine University of Virginia, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library. 2005. Accessed March 18, 2007.