History of Medicine
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.
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.
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.