Pipette history

History of Pipetting (1)
There are hundreds of thousands of scientists, laboratory technicians, students and school children who have held a pipette in their hand on many occasions and some who use them every single day of their working lives. There is also a multi-million dollar industry supporting this market and many people who live and breathe the subject. You can mention a pipette to almost anybody with an education and a look of wonderful nostalgia will come over their face, they will then promptly hold their thumb and forefinger together and squeeze gently!  Most will have no idea that this subset of scientific tools goes back over 150 years, is the tip of a proverbial development iceberg which has now graduated to the world of microchips and big business.

Pipette History
Pipettes like many inventions rely on creative people to develop ideas and manufacturers to implement them. The pipette is no different, although for such a humble device, the business of supplying pipettes has been fraught with litigation and dispute, both on product performance,
design and functionality.
This document attempts to clarify the claims made by individuals and companies and highlight the unknown history of these widely used tools. You may think that the unit you use every day is made by the company whose name is printed on the side of it and the internal mechanisms are also their design. Many companies however label products, license technology, borrow ideas or simply resell other companies products.  This industry, like any other, is fiercely competitive and new advances are jealously guarded and litigated over. The simple locking mechanism in that German pipette may have been licensed by a Finnish company, or that popular design you have bought from a major distribution chain may have been made in Poland by another company! All however have the same basic concepts and foundations and the same evolutionary start!

Pipete History
There have been lots of attempts to provide a definitive history of the hand held laboratory pipette and as any scientist would expect, evidence is necessary to prove a hypothesis. We have therefore used the US patents database to validate any facts. We have not used any local patent applications which may have had prior art as this task may well have taken a millennium to authenticate but as any businessman worth his salt will tell you: the US market is the single biggest and the products you use today have often been patented there first. There is certainly prior art in Finland and Germany on certain elements of this subject, but dates are closely aligned to the USA patents.
The simple answer is a long time ago.  The use of fluids in scientific research and applications has always been necessary and many tools have been used in this environment, from the ubiquitous graduated test tubes to nanodrop robots.  From what we can ascertain however the humble pipette’s life starts in the 1800’s. Official records from the US patent office reach back as far as 1790, with over 20,000 records including the word “pipette” up until recent times. The vast majority have little to do with hand held devices and purely cite the word.  Many are related to automated instruments and areas of industry not relevant to this text. The earliest patent record we could find however, that is relevant, is from 1925, filed in 1924 for a pipette which dilutes blood for sugar testing. There are no mechanical elements attached to this device, so health and safety were of no concern then, just attach the sharp end to the patient and suck!
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