History of blood gas analysis. VI. Oximetry

J Clin Monit. 1986 Oct;2(4):270-88. doi: 10.1007/BF02851177.


Oximetry, the measurement of hemoglobin oxygen saturation in either blood or tissue, depends on the Lambert-Beer relationship between light transmission and optical density. Shortly after Bunsen and Kirchhoff invented the spectrometer in 1860, the oxygen transport function of hemoglobin was demonstrated by Stokes and Hoppe-Seyler, who showed color changes produced by aeration of hemoglobin solutions. In 1932 in Göttingen, Germany, Nicolai optically recorded the in vivo oxygen consumption of a hand after circulatory occlusion. Kramer showed that the Lambert-Beer law applied to hemoglobin solutions and approximately to whole blood, and measured saturation by the transmission of red light through unopened arteries. Matthes in Leipzig, Germany, built the first apparatus to measure ear oxygen saturation and introduced a second wavelength (green or infrared) insensitive to saturation to compensate for blood volume and tissue pigments. Millikan built a light-weight ear "oximeter" during World War II to train pilots for military aviation. Wood added a pneumatic cuff to obtain a bloodless zero. Brinkman and Zijlstra in Groningen, The Netherlands, showed that red light reflected from the forehead could be used to measure oxygen saturation. Zijlstra initiated cuvette and catheter reflection oximetry. Instrumentation Laboratory used multiple wavelengths to measure blood carboxyhemoglobin and methemoglobin is cuvette oximeters. Shaw devised an eight-wavelength ear oximeter. Nakajima and co-workers invented the pulse oximeter, which avoids the need for calibration with only two wavelengths by responding only to the pulsatile changes in transmitted red and infrared light. Lübbers developed catheter tip and cuvette fiberoptic sensors for oxygen tension, carbon dioxide tension, and pH.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Colorimetry / history
  • Europe
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Oximetry / history*
  • Oximetry / methods
  • Spectrophotometry / history
  • United States