Respiratory care is a relatively new discipline in the medical field, however, its practices date back throughout the history of civilization.

Respiratory Therapists treat patients with acute and chronic conditions of the heart and lungs. The job title hasn’t been around very long, however, the fundamental practices of respiratory care were used throughout the 20th century.

This study guide provides an overview of the history of respiratory care and has practice questions on this topic as well. So, if you’re ready, let’s get started.

Significant Historical Events in Respiratory Care

According to Egan’s Fundamentals of Respiratory Care, the following are major historical events that have occurred in the field of respiratory care in the 20th century:

  • 1909 – Oral intubation was introduced
  • 1913 – Laryngoscope was developed
  • 1918 – Oxygen mask was used
  • 1928 – Iron Lung was developed
  • 1947 – Inhalation Therapy Association (ITA) was formed
  • 1948 – Positive-pressure ventilator was introduced
  • 1954 – ITA becomes the American Association for Inhalation Therapists (AAIT)
  • 1958 – Bird Mark 7 was introduced
  • 1967 – Rapid blood gas analysis was introduced
  • 1968 – Fiberoptic bronchoscope was introduced
  • 1971 – CPAP was introduced
  • 1973 – AAIT becomes the American Association for Respiratory Therapists (AART)
  • 1974 – National Board for Respiratory Therapy (NBRT) was founded
  • 1983 – NBRT becomes the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC)
  • 1983 – Respiratory Care Week was nationally proclaimed by Ronald Reagan
  • 1984 – AART becomes the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC)
  • 1994 – CDC published guidelines for ventilator-associated pneumonia prevention
  • 1998 – Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) was formed

Again, these are a few significant events that were highlighted in the Egan’s textbook. We highly recommend that every Respiratory Therapist (and student) obtain a copy for reference.

The Egan's book — aka the Bible of Respiratory Therapy — is one I recommend for all students.
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History of Respiratory Care Practice Questions:

1. What is the national professional association for respiratory care?

2. What is the health care discipline that specializes in the promotion of optimum cardiopulmonary health?
Respiratory therapy

3. What is the name that suggests increased involvement in disease prevention and management and promotion of health and wellness?
Respiratory care

4. One of the primary treatments for asthma uses this method of delivery?
Aerosol medications

5. What was widely prescribed in hospitals in the 1940s and is still a mainstay of respiratory care?
Oxygen therapy

6. What is the organization responsible for the respiratory credentialing examination?
The NBRC, whom we all love very, very much. 🙂

7. The iron lung is an example of what therapy that helps patients who cannot breathe?
Mechanical ventilation

8. What is the professional organization that accredits respiratory care schools and programs?

9. The heart and lungs working together is the most important part of the Respiratory Therapy profession. What system does this describe?
The cardiopulmonary system.

10. What is the method to test the way that height, age, obesity, and disease alter lung function?
Pulmonary function tests

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11. What is another name for respiratory therapy that is a more formal term?
Respiratory care practitioner

12. Who is an individual trained to deliver care to patients with heart and lung diseases?
Respiratory therapist

13. Relieving obstruction is the key to this what respiratory procedure?
Airway management

14. The large-scale production of commercialized oxygen was developed in 1907 by whom?
Karl Von Linde

15. What law describes the law of diffusion for gases and started in 1831?
Graham’s Law

16. The CoARC is a committee that is sponsored by what four organizations, to ensure that Respiratory Therapy follows accrediting standards endorsed by the AMA American Medical Association?
(1) AARC (American Association for Respiratory Care), (2) ACCP (American College of Chest Physicians), (3) ASA (American Society of Anesthesiologists), and (4) ATS (American Thoracic Society).

17. What does AARC stand for?
American Association for Respiratory Care

18. After world war one (1930) Ivan Magill introduced the use of what tube that made blind nasal intubation possible?
Soft Rubber Endotracheal Tube

19. In 1911, what pulmotor ventilator was used in resuscitation?
Heinrich (Drager)

20. What mask allows oxygen administration in percentages and came about in 1960?
Campbell (Ventimask)

21. What famous artist (1452-1519) studied human anatomy and determined that sub-atmospheric intrapleural pressures inflated the lungs?
Leonardo Da Vinci

22. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is responsible for what?
The NBRC is responsible for credentialing and examinations for Respiratory Therapists.

23. Which Greek physician is known as the “Father of Medicine”?

24. In 1947, what organization is responsible for the first professional association for the field of Respiratory Care?
Inhalation Therapy Association (ITA)

25. What is the abbreviation for the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care?

26. In 1808, who described the relationship between gas pressure and temperature?
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac

27. What organization in the 1980’s made a major push to introduce state licensure for Respiratory Care practitioners based on what other organization that provides credentialing?
The AARC and NBRC.

28. During the polio epidemics of the 1930’s and 1950’s, a commercial version of the Iron Lung was developed by what two men?
Drinker and Emerson

29. The NBRC allows Respiratory Therapists to specialize in what areas?
NPS (Neonatal Pediatrics Specialist), PFT (Pulmonary Function Technologist), Polysomnography, and Critical Care.

30. In 1787, what is the law that describes the relationship between gas temperature and volume is?
Charles Law

31. Inhalation therapists provided what support therapy to help improve patients breathing? Oxygen therapy

32. What committee is responsible for reviewing educational programs for Respiratory Care?

33. What did David Pierson predict?
He predicted greater use of patient assessment protocols in disease management in all clinical settings, a more active role in palliative care, increasing emphasis on smoking cessation and prevention, and early detection and intervention in COPD, and an increase of using RTs in as home health coordinators and caregivers.

34. What did Drinker and Emerson invent?
The Iron Lung

35. What did Joseph Black rediscover?
He rediscovered CO2 and he called it “dephlogisticated air”.

36. What did William Roentgen discover?

37. What does Karl von Linde contribute to the respiratory field?
He created large-scale commercial preparation of oxygen.

38. What is the AARC’s mission?
The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) will continue to be the leading national and international professional association for respiratory care. The AARC will encourage and promote professional excellence, advance the science and practice of respiratory care, and serve as an advocate for patients, their families, the public, the profession, and the respiratory therapist.

39. Which organization is responsible for accreditation in the respiratory care field?
Committee on Accreditation of Respiratory Care (CoARC).

40. Which organization is responsible for credentialing in the respiratory care field?
National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC)

41. Who created the germ theory?
Louis Pasteur

42. Who described the law of partial pressures in a gas mixture?
John Dalton

43. Who described the relationship between gas pressure and temperatures?
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac

44. Who described the relationship between gas volume and temperatures?
Jacques Charles

45. Who is credited with the discovery of oxygen?
Joseph Priestley

46. Who is the father of medicine?

47. What is the AAIT?
It stands for American Association for Inhalation Therapy and came about in 1954. The group helped to advance the science and practice for respiratory care.

48. What is the AART?
It stands for the American Association for Respiratory Therapy and came about in 1973. The group helped to advocate for patients and their families.

49. What is aerosol therapy?
The administration of liquid or powdered aerosol particles via inhalation to achieve a desired therapeutic effect.

50. What is airway management?
The use of various techniques and devices to establish and/or maintain a functional air passageway.

51. The first health care specialists appeared in what year?
The appeared in the 1940s.

52. How many breaths does a normal adult breathe per minute?

53. What did Hutchinson observe?
He observed the relationship between height and lung volume and that vital capacity decreases with age, obesity, and lung disease.

54. What is the Inhalational Therapy Association (ITA)?
It was founded in 1947 in Chicago and was the first professional association for the field of respiratory care.

55. What is Mechanical Ventilation?
Refers to the use of a mechanical device to provide ventilatory support for patients.

56. What is the NBRC and when was it founded?
It stands for National Board of Respiratory Care and was founded in 1974. The NBRC provides the credentialing process for both the entry-level CRT and the advanced-practitioner RRT.

57. When was the American Registry on Inhalation Therapists founded?
The American Registry of Inhalation Therapists was founded in 1960.

58. What is pulmonary function testing?
Diagnostic procedure(s) that provide objective, quantifiable measures of lung function.

59. What is Respiratory Care?
The health care discipline that specializes in the promotion of optimum cardiopulmonary function and health.

60. What are Respiratory Care Practitioners?
They are graduates of a CoARC accredited school designed to qualify the graduate for the registry examination of the National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC).

61. What will respiratory therapists do in the future of medicine?
They will focus on patient assessment, care plan development, protocol administration, disease management and rehabilitation, and patient and family education, to include tobacco education and smoking cessation.

62. What do Respiratory Therapists do?
Apply scientific principles to prevent, identify, and treat acute or chronic dysfunction of the cardiopulmonary system. Respiratory care includes the assessment, treatment, management control, diagnostic evaluation, education, and care of patients with deficiencies and abnormalities of the cardiopulmonary system.

63. What are the many names of the ITA?
The ITA became the American Association for Inhalation Therapists (AAIT) in 1945, the American Association for Respiratory Therapy (AART) in 1954, the American Association for Respiratory Therapy (ARRT) in 1973, and finally the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) in 1982.

64. What is in store for the future of respiratory therapy?
There will be an increase in demand for respiratory care because of advances in treatment and technology; increases in and aging of the population; and increases in the number of patients with asthma, COPD, and other cardiopulmonary diseases.

65. What is the ICRC?
An AARC-sponsored organization dedicated to the globalization of quality respiratory care.

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66. What is the purpose of the ITA?
To encourage and promote professional excellence. To provide for professional advancement, foster cooperation with physicians, and advance the knowledge of inhalation therapy through educational activities.

67. When did aerosolized medication for the treatment of asthma begin?

68. When did the first therapeutic administration of oxygen occur and when was it established, and when was it routinely used?
It first occurred in 1798. The use of oxygen to treat respiratory disease became established by the 1920s, and oxygen was used routinely in hospitals by the 1940s.

69. How did Respiratory Therapy school get started?
The first course in inhalation therapy was offered in 1950. Programs in the 1960s focused on teaching students the proper application of oxygen therapy, oxygen delivery systems, humidifiers, and nebulizers and the use of various IPPB devices.

70. How are the education programs different than from the early days?
Technician programs no longer exist.

71. What are the main concepts of the respiratory therapy profession?
Assessment, treatment, management, control, diagnostic evaluation, education, and care of patients with deficiencies and abnormalities of the cardiopulmonary system. Respiratory care is increasingly involved in the prevention of respiratory disease, the management of patients with chronic respiratory disease, and the promotion of health and wellness.

72. When was the iron lung used extensively?
The iron lung was used extensively during the Polio epidemics of the 1940s and 1950s.

73. What kind of programs do they have now for respiratory therapy profession?
The new standard requires an associate degree for entry into the profession. There will be a need for individuals with more education so more baccalaureate and graduate education is needed.

74. What ancient figure is likely to have recorded the first respiratory physiology experiment?

75. What empire established measures to prevent and control epidemics?

76. What is another name for the Bubonic plague?
Black Death

77. Who reported that sub-atmospheric pressures were required to inflate mammalian lungs?
Da Vinci

78. Who is credited with making the first barometer?

79. Who described the inverse relationship between gas volumes and pressures?

80. Who is credited with the development of the oxygen electrode, which allowed for analysis of PaO2?

81. Which physician was responsible for identifying the non-linear relationship between the binding of hemoglobin and oxygen and constructing the oxyhemoglobin-hemoglobin dissociation curve?
Christian Bohr

82. During WW1, advances in which field resulted in a reduction of non-battlefield mortality, compared to the Civil War?

83. What was developed to improve oxygen titration, especially for those with COPD?
The Venturi mask.

84. What is Hippocrates often called?
He is considered to be the father of medicine.

85. Which famous painter was among the first to dissect humans in order to better understand human physiology?
Leonardo da Vinci

Final Thoughts

Learning about the history of respiratory care is important for all Respiratory Therapists and students. While the official title of a Respiratory Therapist hasn’t been around very long, many treatment modalities have been used for decades on end.

Hopefully, this study guide has been useful in helping you learn more about this topic. We have a similar guide on the Job Outlook of a Respiratory Therapist that I think would be useful for you as well.

Thank you so much for reading and, as always, breathe easy my friend.


The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article:

  • Faarc, Kacmarek Robert PhD Rrt, et al. Egan’s Fundamentals of Respiratory Care. 12th ed., Mosby, 2020. [Link]
  • “Timeline and History of Respiratory Therapy.” AARC, 17 July 2017,
  • Burton, G. “A Short History of Therapist-Driven Respiratory Care Protocols.” PubMed, Mar. 1996,

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