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In the year of 2006, 5 million people received blood that might have saved their life
(American Red Cross). The most important part of this process of transfusing blood from one
person to another is figuring out what blood type they have, for that keeps the receivers defense
systems from attacking the new blood (Specificity 3). That person would have either A, B, O or
AB type blood. This simple process of figuring out blood types was impossible just over a
century ago. In 1901, Karl Landsteiner discovered three blood types, which have now been
expanded to four. Before the discovery, blood transfusion was a dangerous and rarely used
process. Many people died after receiving the wrong type of blood or undergoing medical
experimentation. On the other hand newfound knowledge of more than one kind of human blood
also allowed for many developments in the medical industry and surgical procedures. But the
most important thing that the discovery of blood types made possible was the saving of countless
lives, both on the battlefield and in daily life. Austrian physician, Karl Landsteiners discovery of
the ABO blood type system allowed for safe blood transfusions which broadened materials and
businesses of the medical industry, improved surgical procedures in war and saved lives all
around the world.
Before Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1901, people had very limited
information about blood in general. It is important to look at the preceding blood transfusion
experiments to understand more about blood types effect on medicine. In the 1600s to 1800s,
people did not know how blood functioned, how it circulated through the body, and Europeans
still clung to century old beliefs such as Hippocratess famous four humors (Tucker 18).
Experimental surgeons would transfuse all manner of substances into animals and humans,
causing deaths throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century (Starr 8).

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But before transfusion experimentation even started, bloodletting was another process
that had already existed for centuries. Bloodletting was an ancient health procedure that stemmed
from the Greeks (Starr 18). Hippocrates had a theory called the Four Humors, consisting of black
bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. People thought that these four liquids had to be kept
equivalent in your body and if they were not balanced properly, the person would fall ill. So
when someone became unwell, they would use knives, leeches and heated glass cups to remove
their blood (Tucker 20). Of course, bloodletting was not beneficial in the least and caused the
death of hundreds of unsuspecting patients. The first president of the United States died from
being diagnosed through the process of bloodletting after he woke up with a form of strep throat
(Starr 27). The people who performed bloodletting as well as teeth pulling, skull drilling and
haircutting were barbers (Tucker 18). Barbers did not need any kind of medical degree and more
or less learned by trial and error. They used blunt tools such as pliers, saws, hand cranked drills
and lancets. These dangerous practices demonstrate the lack of knowledge among the public and
medical community related to the functionings of blood.
However, barbers did not perform the first transfusion tests. Instead, the procedures were
executed by experimental surgeons who took risks with human lives for the good of the medical
community. The first recorded transfusion concerning a human being was performed on
December 1667:
Jean Baptiste Denis, a physician of Louis XIV, transfused lambs blood into a 15
year old boy with a raging fever. The boy survived the process only because he
was young and received a small amount of blood. Denis performed upon a few
other patients who lived and died. But the one patient that really affected
transfusion history was Antoine Mauroy. Deniss friend had found the mad man

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wandering around Paris and brought him to Denis, hoping for a cure. Denis
transfused Mauroy with about a cup of calfs blood into the mans arm after first
removing some of the mans own blood. After another transfusion, the man
seemed to have miraculously regained his sanity. Yet a few months later the man
died. Denis was charged of malpractice and though his name was cleared,
transfusion was from then on restricted. If a surgeon wanted to perform
transfusion, he or she had to ask for permission from the Faculty of Medicine. But
even that was soon amended and transfusion was outlawed completely in
England. (Starr 3)
Jean Baptiste Denis brought out blood transfusion as an important medical process but also
helped in expelling it for another century. At the time, the dangers of blood experimentation
outweighed the benefits so it was actually best that it stopped. Landsteiner would help spark the
excitement for blood transfusion again in a few centuries.
Before that fatal experiment, there were many other surgical blood procedures that
included a variety of animals. Physicians that studied in medically interested organizations such
as the University of Oxford often used dogs to experiment during the mid-1600s (Tucker 25).
Transfusing blood between different dogs of varying size, breed, and age was an often practiced
activity (Starr 8). Surgeons injected all kinds of liquids into the dogs, including wine, beer,
opium, milk, mercury and the blood of other animals (Starr 8). The dogs who were subjected to
this treatment had similar reactions to what people would have. Those results included fever,
dizziness/fainting, harsh breathing, uncontrollable bleeding, a quickened heart rate and in many
cases death (Robertson 6). Furthermore, almost all of the commonly found farm animals were
used for experimentation, such as horses, sheep, cows, and pigs (Specificity 78). They were all

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subjected to many painful procedures. The widely popular substitute for blood however was milk
because it had vital nutrition that humans already consumed orally on a daily basis. Hence,
before the late 1800s the human race had little to no information about blood and that led to
dangerous experimentation and deaths. Karl Landsteiner helped people dispel the risks of blood
work and allowed much benefit to come from it.
Unlike others in the past, Landsteiner was able to experiment with blood safely. In 1901,
he published an article that introduced and explained his new idea of blood types. The first line
of the article states, Some time ago, I found and stated that normal human blood serum is able
to make the erythrocytes of other healthy individuals aggregate, (Agglutination 774). This says
that Landsteiner observed the clumping of blood cells when blood from different healthy donors
was mixed. He discovered this by applying a cautious experimentation method using blood
already extracted from animals and humans to observe the reactions of their cells (Specificity
79). After a while he saw that some combined blood cells reacted while others did not.
Additionally, he observed that it was a patterned reaction that occurred. In this way did he realize
that not all blood is the same and there are four types of blood within human beings.
After Karl Landsteiners discovery of blood types in 1901, people started producing
equipment and new inventions for blood work in the war. Many new establishments helped to
supply and organize the new technology. One of the biggest is the Red Cross, responsible for the
collection and giving of blood. The medical industries like this produced blood products and
equipment, while factories produced the needed equipment for transfusion on the warfront and
collection in the cities (Kendrick 14). The inventions and businesses that sprang up because of
Karl Landsteiner during World War II not only helped on the battlefield, but it helped create
awareness for the soldiers because giving blood was something practically everyone could do.

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Because blood was now possible to use for the human body, experts separated the blood
itself into more medical products. Although whole blood is always the best transfusion substance
since it carries oxygen, separate portions of blood can be easier to handle. The most widely used
blood product was plasma. Blood consists of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and
plasma. Plasma is the liquid that the cells and platelets float around in (American Red Cross). It
includes water, minerals, vitamins and proteins (American Red Cross). If the wounded person
does not have access to immediate whole blood, they often quickly inject him or her with plasma
to ward off shock and death until they can get him to a hospital (Winegarden 12). Shock is a
condition when the patient loses too much blood and some parts of his body do not have blood
flow. So having some of the blood liquids in their bloodstream stops a person from having a
shock attack (Robertson 5). Platelets are irregularly sized cells that clot your blood (American
Red Cross). Without them, people would die from a single cut from bleeding to death. Other
products such as albumin, globulin and thrombin are proteins that are in the blood (Blood Bank
and Transfusion Service Staff). A small portion of any of these can revive a person after blood
loss, depending on the wound. All these new discoveries stemmed from Karl Landsteiners
research and added to the masses of tools used to save lives on the battlefield.
With all the new blood products, people needed new equipment to put them into practice.
One of the most widely produced equipment pieces were transfusion kits. One average
transfusion kit contained three transfusion bottles, 20 ampules of sodium citrate solution,
needles, procaine, blood typing equipment, syringes, alcohol, and cleaning supplies (Kendrick
191). The ampules or vials contained sodium citrate solution that stopped blood from clumping
in the bottles or tubes (Starr 40). This clumping of the blood was a problem before the solution
became routine because the blood would become blocked in the needles or the tubes before it

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could reach the patient. Direct transfusion was used by French surgeon, Alexis Carrel, which is
the process of stitching the veins of two patients together as to avoid clotting. Richard Lewisohn,
a New York physician, solved this problem by finding the right amount of solution for the blood,
for sodium citrate is very poisonous in large quantities. Another very important piece of
equipment was the blood typing tools. They had to be simple and accurate or else not many
people would want to have transfusions. Captain John Elliot of the US Navy first discovered an
easy way of figuring out type O blood from other types. They would put a drop of the donors
blood onto a serum of type O blood and if the blood was O nothing would happen in the cells
(Kendrick 250). If it was any other type, then the blood O cells would react and try to destroy the
new cells. Testing procedures for blood types and conditions expanded as a result of
Landsteiners discovery.
The American Red Cross was one of the biggest organizations that flourished during
World War II. Because blood transfusion was going to be used in the war, someone had to
supply the blood. At the start of World War I, the American Red Cross Blood Donor Service was
created and started collecting millions of pints of blood for the war effort (American Red Cross).
One of the greatest aspects about blood transfusion was that anyone whose blood was healthy
and fitted all standards of health could donate blood (American Red Cross). It was a fairly quick
and easy process as well. The medical service managed to draw in so many donors by using
propaganda that raised blood donation to the highest degree and reminded people that there were
soldiers out in the battlefield that could be saved with some of their blood (Starr 78). One of the
posters that were displayed had an illustration of an American soldier kneeling on the ground
holding his head with a rifle by him. A large caption proclaimed, Your Blood Can Save Him
(Starr 79). These posters were put around the cities and donation centers were busy places during

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the war. The Red Cross was an important part of World War II and the whole establishment is
indebted to Karl Landsteiners discovery.
Like America, Britain had its own branch of medical suppliers for World War II. In
comparison to the American Red Cross, the British Red Cross Transfusion Service focused on
different tasks related to blood. They were more focused on distributing the blood and
administering it to the soldiers rather than collecting it. This foundation was also called the
British Army Transfusion Service and was a section of their military division (Kendrick 15).
Great Britains transfusion service had three main sections. There was the home base where they
trained civilians and military officers and prepared them to go to active war areas and transfuse
blood for people. They also readied equipment and prepared the blood to be shipped out. Then
there was the transfusion base, where they carefully kept track of the blood and its expiration
dates and distributed them as needed to the people who needed it most. Finally there was the
field unit, the part where people went out and gave the blood to the wounded. The British were
well prepared and had a good knowledge of blood. One thing they did was have a list of people
who were ready to donate blood. Before the war they had about 80,000 ready O type donors
(Starr 88). Blood O type donors were best because anyone could receive type O blood, no blood
typing required (Aldrich 298). Britain had blood banks ready and in use six years before World
War II officially started (Starr 88).
In addition to Britain, other countries also started transfusion programs in the years
before World War II broke out. The Germans had a blood program, although theirs was biased in
the beginning, only accepting Aryan donors for blood. Their program started as a civilian
establishment and then expanded to become part of the military medical forces. It was called the
Laboratory for Blood Transfusion in Berlin. Their transfusion section was quite inferior

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compared to Americas or Britains. Since their donors were generally limited to medical staff
and slightly wounded men, they were always in short supply of blood. And many high placed
officials lost interest in blood transfusion because of the serious reactions and ineffectiveness
that happened within their program (Douglas 23). Whereas the Soviet Unions blood program
was much the same as the American Red Cross. They called it the Central Institute for Blood
Transfusion in Moscow (Douglas 21). Karl Landsteiners discovery stretched over the whole
world and all countries were using it to their advantage.
The discovery of blood types allowed for many new inventions in World War II. With the
new technology of blood transfusions and blood typing, the military was greatly improved and
new establishments arose to regulate medical divisions. Furthermore the medical industry created
many new products for medicine and transfusion. Equipment was engineered, millions of pints
of blood collected and transfused. Plenty of useful and beneficial advances came out of Karl
Landsteiners discovery in all areas. During World War II, blood was carefully collected,
transported and given to civilians and soldiers alike. In modern times today, it saves the lives of
cancer patients, accident victims and anyone else that requires a pint or two of blood. This is
really the most important thing that the discovery of blood types made possible.
During World War II, numerous people were saved by blood transfusions. Blood
transfusions were used in all the countries fighting in the war. They were performed for the
majority of injuries that occurred on the battlefield and in the cities, such as hemorrhages, crush
injuries, traumatic shock, compound fractures, lacerations and second to third degree burns (Starr
91). A few medical individuals believed in the helpfulness of transfusion so fully that they
wanted to do transfusions for any kind of wound or injury. That was not possible because of the
limited blood supply but a large portion of the wounded did get transfusions. A U.S. army

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official named Major Hordin reported in January of 1944, that the ratio of 1:4.7 shows the
transfused to the wounded for the hospitals that he visited (Kendrick 556). The total amount of
transfusions used in Italy from September 1943 to February 1944 was 4,631 (Kendrick 483).
That is almost a third of the number of casualties they had. Blood banks were located in most
cities, near the edges of the town, where the bombs were less likely to fall (Starr 88). On the
actual front though, there were no blood banks and the soldiers had to be sent to places with
blood supplies. Norman Bethune, a Canadian surgeon, saw soldiers in Madrid dying in medical
wards when they could be saved with blood transfusions (Starr 78). This problem of not enough
blood inspired him to act. He and his companions drove around the city of Madrid and delivered
blood to any hospitals that needed it (Starr 79). This is just one of the ways blood was
transported to soldiers during World War II.
Another blood transfusion procedure that helped save lives was donor appreciation. This
was when the donation centers paid the donors for giving blood. In the time after the war blood
donation rates went down rapidly and blood centers were closing everywhere. Some blood
centers chose to pay their donors to fix the problem. In 1951, the Japanese Blood Bank paid 400
yen for 200 cubic centimeters of blood (Starr 161). That much money was about twice what an
average laborer received in Japan. Widowed women, the unemployed, the homeless and students
looked to this resource for their income (Starr 162). This was not the best way to collect blood as
some people sold dangerously large amounts of blood but it got the job done.
The discovery of blood transfusions also helps in daily life elsewhere. All kinds of
accident and disease patients require blood. One of the biggest reasons blood transfusions are
important is that it saves so many people that were in accidents (Blood Bank and Transfusion
Service Staff). Whether they cut their finger or they were in a car crash, all victims need blood to

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recover. In addition to that, surgery would not be probable without the possibility of blood
transfusions. There would be too much blood loss and people would die right away, especially
with something like a cardiovascular surgery. Surgery is a procedure used all the time that helps
heal mental disorders, birth defects, organ problems and more. People with cancer also need
blood transfusions for their chemotherapy treatment (American Red Cross). People with anemia,
a decease that stops the body from producing enough healthy red blood cells, also need blood
transfusions (American Red Cross). Because of the discovery of blood types, doctors can help
people and give them the necessary amount and type of blood that they needed to continue their
Karl Landsteiners discovery of blood types allowed new ideas to develop. The military
and medical departments improved. New technology and equipment came into being. And most
important of all, thousands of lives are saved every day. Because this discovery affected so many
areas of medicine, war and daily life it is definitely a significant turning point in history. Karl
Landsteiner is truly someone to admire for his great addition to the knowledge of mankind and
this must be obvious to some people as he won the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
(Rockefeller University). This information has helped in the past, is helping people now and will
forever continue to assist the human race in matters of medicine. So many people benefitted from
this key event that it will always be remembered as a monumental discovery.

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Works Cited
Landsteiner, Karl. "On the Aglutination of Human Blood." Hematology: Landmark Papers of the
Twentieth Century. Ed. Marshall A. Lichtman, Jerry L. Spivak, and Laurence A. Boxer.
San Diego: Academic, 2000. 774-75. Print.
- - -. The Specificity of Serological Reactions. Rev ed. New York: Dover, 1962. Print.
Robertson, Bruce L. "Further Observations on the Results of Blood Transfusion in War Surgery:
With Special Reference to the Results in Primary Hemorrhage." Annals of Surgery 67.1
(1918): 1-13. Annals of Surgery. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.
Winegarden, Howard M. "Human Blood: Life Saver 1 in WWI." Engineering and Science
Monthly Feb. 1945: 4+. Engineering and Science. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.
Aldrich, C. A. Blood Substitutes and Blood Transfusions. Ed. Stuart Mudd and Wlliam
Thalhimer. Springfield: Charles C Thomas, 1942. Print.
American Red Cross. American National Red Cross, 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2012.
The Blood Bank & Transfusion Service Staff. Blood Transfusion Policies and Standard
Practices. Ann Arbor: Regents of the U of Michigan, 2009. The University of Michigan
Health System: Department of Pathology. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.

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"Karl Landsteiner." The Rockefeller University. Rockefeller University, 2012. Web. 27 Sept.
2012. <>.
Kendrick, Douglas B. Blood Program in World War II. Washington DC: United States Army
Medical Service, 1989. Print. Medical Department of the U.S. Army in World War II.
Starr, Douglas. Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce. New York: Alfred A. Knoff,
1998. Print.
Tucker, Holly. Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution. New
York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011. Print.