Skip Navigation Bar
Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Boundary Crossings in 1931

In the years before Universal Studios released Frankenstein in 1931, scientists seemed poised to penetrate once-sacrosanct boundaries between life and death, a prospect that continued both to trouble the intellect and thrill the imagination. Newspapers and magazines speculated freely about one day reviving the dead, achieving immortality through the use of artificial organs, and altering the genetic shape of future generations through eugenics. The Universal film responded to these themes in popular culture.

1935 Article: 'Can Science Raise the Dead?'. featuring a white and green image of a body lying on a machine designed to bring an asphixiated person back to life, attended to by three men.
1935 Article: 'Can Science Raise the Dead?'.

In the 1930s, American chemist Robert E. Cornish killed a dog with nitrogen gas, then revived it. Emboldened by this success, he vainly sought access to men executed in the chamber. These efforts to revive the dead got widespread press coverage during the 1930s.

Perfusion pump, a glass heart pump, made from Pyrex glass, intended to sustain organs removed from the body for study or transplantation. Courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
Perfusion pump. Courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

When his sister-in-law was diagnosed with heart disease, aviator Charles Lindbergh helped develop this "glass heart" — a pump, made from Pyrex glass, intended to sustain organs removed from the body for study or transplantation. He and Nobel Prize-winning French surgeon Alexis Carrel kept hearts, kidneys, ovaries, and other organs alive for appreciable lengths of time.