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The Origins of the CPR Resusci Anne Doll


In 1960, Asmund Laerdal and Dr Peter Safar introduced the first medical simulator for teaching CPR – the Resusci Anne doll. This article delves into the history and significance of this iconic CPR training tool.


Asmund Laerdal and Dr. Peter Safar: Pioneers of CPR Education

Asmund Laerdal was a toy maker who in 1955 used CPR to save his two-year-old son from drowning. Both men believed it was important to educate about the importance of CPR education. Dr Safar had faced much criticism for demonstrating CPR on the living (such as his wife!). The two men collaborated to create a safe and helpful learning tool.


Design for a Life-sized CPR Doll

Laerdal believed that the face of the human-sized CPR demonstration doll should be female. He thought that this would make people more comfortable during their training because it would be less ‘threatening’, but who’s face to choose?


The Enigmatic Inspiration: The Unknown Woman of the Seine

Perhaps not the most obvious choice, but Resusci Anne is based off a death mask from the late 1880’s. It belonged to a girl, thought to be about sixteen years old who reputedly drowned in the Seine River. It is unknown whether she died accidentally, was murdered, or ended her own life. When she was pulled out of the river, her body was sent to the Paris Morgue.

A black and white photograph of the death mask used as the inspiration for the first CPR manakin. The teenage girl has her eyes closed. She seems peaceful, as though just asleep.

The death mask of l’Inconnue by Unknown c.1900


The Paris Morgue: A Surprising Entertainment

Although it seems unfathomable today, the Paris Morgue was a source of entertainment for the residents of the city. Newspapers would publish about the bodies with the purpose of people coming to identify the deceased individuals. They did not intend to twist the morgue into an entertainment attraction with death as the headliner, but members of the public would visit in crowds to satiate their morbid curiosities. Because of her beauty, The Unknown Woman of the Seine was very popular in the Morgue.


Drawing of a small crowd of 19th Century people visiting the morgue with wide windows to help identification. The inspiration for the CPR manikin came from a similar setting.

Corpse viewing at the Paris morgue

The Unknown Face That Inspired Art and CPR Training

The pathologist, also taken by her appearance, decided her beauty should be persevered and a death-mask was made of her face. This mask was then sold across Europe. It became a popular accessory in the homes of many bohemians, artists and writers and featured as the muse in many of their works. Many have speculated as to who she may have been, from a scorned lover to an opera singer, but the Unknown Woman of the Seine’s body was never identified. Initially, she was memorialised in art, but her face became immortalised in the CPR doll: ‘the most kissed face of all time’.


The Symbolic Value of CPR Resusci Anne

Much like the Unknown Soldier, perhaps her true value lies in what she represents. When we pump her chest and breathe air into her lungs, she stands for anyone who may need our help.


Two women kneel on the grass. One pumps the chest of CPR doll, Resusci Anne while the other checks the feedback device.

First aid delegates practice CPR on a White Cross Training Outdoor Pursuits course.


The Resusci Anne doll has a rich and intriguing history, with its origins rooted in an enigmatic story from the late 19th century. Today, it remains a vital tool for CPR education and a symbol of lifesaving efforts.


Thank you to Holly Peters, Mayflower 400 Young City Laureate for Plymouth 2019. This blog has been adapted from her original post.


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