You Swallowed What?!

We all remember the temptation we felt as young children to put foreign objects in our mouths. Babies explore their surroundings with their mouths and this behavior can lead to some awful moments of panic. Dr. Chevalier Jackson (1865-1958) became one of the world’s leading experts on extracting foreign objects from the airways of children and adults alike. Jackson grew up in western Pennsylvania on a farm, where he found himself tinkering around a lot. He attended the University of Pittsburgh and upon his graduation in 1886, he had set his mind on becoming a specialist in laryngology, a rarely heard of field of medicine at the time (Boyd 1). He worked hard, saving his money for a trip to England where he could study alongside specialists, and upon his arrival back in the United States in 1890, he had already developed his first endoscope (Boyd 1). Jackson never patented any of his designs, and he never made a profit from them either; believing that they should be made easily available to doctors (Boyd 3). Unfortunately, doctors who lacked training were using his tools and severely injuring their patients, thus inspiring Jackson to host in-depth lessons about safe object removal and tracheotomies. He used cadavers, anesthetized dogs, and even a small doll to train professionals (Boyd 1). Jackson was known to perform procedures on a doll named Michelle that mimicked the size of a small child (‘Michelle the Chocking Doll: Say “AHHH” ‘). He became a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Jefferson, and Temple and it is estimated that his courses helped save as many as half a million lives (‘Michelle the Chocking Doll: Say “AHHH” ‘).

doctor with framed items and pointer

(Chevalier Jackson with his collection of saved objects that he extracted from patients. Photo Credit:

Over the course of his career, Jackson saved the objects that he extracted from patients, building up a respectable collection of 2,374 objects (“Swallowed Objects: Do Not Swallow”). In 1924 he donated this collection to the College of Physicians in Philadelphia where they are currently on display to the public (“Swallowed Objects: Do Not Swallow”).  The objects range everywhere from animal bones, coins, medals, small toys to nails and pins. Jackson once declared that his most challenging case was the removal of four open safety pins that were interlocked and entwined by a wool ball from a 9 month old baby (“Swallowed Objects: Do Not Swallow”). Although in most instances, babies swallow objects that are left laying around, the baby in this story was actually fed the safety pins by their older sister (“Swallowed Objects: Do Not Swallow”). Jackson had become an expert at using his endoscopic tools and most of his removals were done without the use of anesthesia, making them generally safer (‘Michelle the Chocking Doll: Say “AHHH” ‘). During his working years, Jackson also saw numerous cases where children ingested caustic substances. He became an advocate for warning labels to be placed on all caustic poisons, but the Federal Caustic Poison Law was not signed until March 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge (Boyd 2).

Chevalier Jackson suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, which made three major appearances in his later years (Boyd 3). During his time on bed rest he wrote the text, Per Oral Endoscopy and Laryngeal Surgery (Boyd 3). Jackson died August 16, 1958 at 93 years old. He forever changed the field of otolaryngology with his inventive and humanitarian approaches to medicine.

Have any of you ever swallowed something that you shouldn’t have? Leave your experiences in the comments below!

Some objects that represent his working career can be explored at the Mütter Museum’s online exhibit “Memento Mütter” here-

(Swallowed Objects Collection)

(Michelle the doll)

Until Next Time



  • Boyd, Arthur D. “Chevalier Jackson: The Father of American Bronchoesophagoscopy.” Our Surgical Heritage.
  • “Michelle The Chocking Doll: Say AHHH.” Memento Mütter. Accessed 30 March, 2020.
  • ” Swallowed Objects: Do Not Swallow.” Memento Mütter. Accessed 30 March, 2020.


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