The word stethoscope is derived from the two Greek words, stethos (chest) and scopos (examination). Apart from listening to the heart and chest sounds, it is also used to hear bowel sounds and blood flow noises in arteries and veins.
Before the invention of stethoscope doctors used to place their ears directly on the chests of patients ( direct auscultation) to diagnose their conditions. This being an embarrassing for female patients an old frenchmen named René Laennec created a stethoscope in 1816, at the Necker-Enfants Malades Hospital in Paris.
He rolled up a sheet of paper into a tube and placed one end on the patient’s chest. The tube magnified sound, and Laennec found he could hear her lung sounds easily by putting his ear to the open end. The rolled up piece of paper was soon replaced by a hollow wooden tube. Laennec named his invention 'the stethoscope’.
In the 1890s, the hollow wooden tube was replaced by the rubber and plastic binaural stethoscope. These stethoscopes have two ear pieces and a bell-like end that is placed on the body.