Health and Living Podcasts

The First Ambulance: The Humans (and Horses) That Saved the City

EPISODE 329 Did you know that the first modern urban ambulance — the ‘mobile hospital’ — was invented in New York City?

On June 4, 1869, America’s first ambulance service went into operation from Bellevue Hospital with a driver, a surgeon, a horse and equipment including a stretcher, a stomach pump, bandages and sponges, handcuffs, a straight-jacket, and a quart of brandy.

Within just a couple years, the ambulance became an invaluable feature of New York health, saving the lives of those who might otherwise die on the streets of the city.

In this show, you’ll be introduced to a new way of thinking about urgent injuries and emergency care. True emergency medicine was not a serious factor in major hospitals until the 1960s. Yet on-the-job injuries and terrible trauma from violent crime was a perpetual problem in New York.

What was life like in the city before the advent of the ambulance? How did ambulances work in the era before the telephone?

PLUS: A tribute to the ambulance workers — the EMTs, paramedics, drivers and dispatchers — who have risked their lives to save those of other New Yorkers.

To get this episode, simply stream on Stitcher or your favorite podcast player

The Union Army Ambulance Corps (Library of Congress/National Museum of Civil War)
Edward Dalton in his war garb
Bellevue Hospital
Taking care of an injured New Yorker (date unknown)
Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer
Byron Company (New York, N.Y.)
Hospital, Bellevue, Blackwell’s Island (Welfare) Old & New Bldgs.
ca. 1896
St. Luke’s Hospital — Ambulance House, 1900 (Museum of the City of New York)
A New York ambulance, circa 1942 (Museum of the City of New York)


From the film The Girl In White:

From the first season of Emergency!


If you liked this episode on the origins of the first ambulance, try out these other shows referenced in this episode:


Katherine T. Barkley The Ambulance

Ryan Corbett Bell The Ambulance: A History

Sandra Opdycke No One Was Turned Away: The Role of Public Hospitals Since 1900

David Oshinsky Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital

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