Basal Metabolism

At some time during the late 1800’s it was realized that oxygen consumption could be measured by filling a closed-circuit spirometer with oxygen and having the patient’s exhaled air pass through a soda-lime CO2 absorber.  Oxygen consumption could then be measured by the rate at which the volume of the spirometer decreased over time. When this measurement was made at rest it became known as Basal Metabolism.  In a very real way Basal Metabolism measurements were responsible for the development of Pulmonary Function Laboratories.  A number of companies devoted to constructing Basal Metabolism systems came into existence at this time (Collins, Jones, McKesson, Sanborn), and later made significant contributions to the development of modern spirometry and pulmonary function testing.


Respiration Apparatus, 1850’s, Regnauld and Reiset.  From Lehrbuch der physiologie des menschen : Unter mitwirkung der herren prof.  Chapter XXII Stoff-und Kraftwechsel by Nathan Zuntz, page 637, published by FCW Vogel , 1913.

Likely the first closed-circuit system for measuring oxygen consumption and CO2 production.



Respiration Apparatus, 1860’s, Pettenkofer.  From Lehrbuch der Intoxikationen, Volume 1, by Rudolf Kobert, page 210.  Published by F. Enke, 1902.  A man-sized room used to measure CO2 production by Max von Pettenkofer in the 1860’s.


Respiration Apparatus, 1866, Pettenkofer and Voit.  From “Untersuchungen uber den Stoffverbrauch des normalen menschen” by Max von Pettenkofer and Carl Voit, published 1866, labeled page 246.

The illustration shows a mouthpiece attached to a pair of Muller valves. Exhaled air was directed through a chamber containing caustic soda (potassium hydroxide) which absorbed the exhaled carbon dioxide and from there to a precision gas meter.  The CO2 absorbant was weighed after each experiment to determine how much carbon dioxide was absorbed.  The gas meter allowed the CO2 output per minute to be determined.


Respiration Apparatus, Pettenkofer and Voit, 1860’s.  From The Elements of the Science of Nutrition by Graham Lusk, published by W.B. Saunders, 1917.  Unnumbered front page.


Basal Metabolism, 1910.  System included a mouthpiece, one-way valves, dry gas meter and chemical gas analyzer.From: Methodik des Energiestoffwechsels, by Von J. E. Johansson, Handbuch der biochemischen arbeitsmethoden, Volume 3, Part 2, Edited by Emil Abderhalden, published by Urban & Schwarzenberg , 1910, page 1156.



Respiration Calorimetry, 1910.  From: Respiration Calorimeters for studying the respiratory exchange and energy transformations of man, by Frances G. Benedict and Thorne M. Carpenter, Published by the Carnegie Institute of Washington, 1910, page 5.


Respiration Calorimeter, 1915.  From “A respiration calorimeter for the study of disease”, by Abraham Lisk, a chapter of “Clinical Calorimetry”, published by the Russel Sage Institute of Pathology, 1915, page 24.


Basal Metabolism apparatus, 1916.  “The apparatus of Benedict (fig. 16) [1909, 1912] is arranged to measure both carbon dioxide and oxygen, and the recording spirometer has an attachment (a “work adder”) which automatically adds the excursions together and so records the rate of ventilation. The instrument has no valves, but a rapid circulation of air is maintained by the blower. This is necessitated by the great resistance of the water-vapour absorbers.  If this resistance were avoided the apparatus could be simplified considerably.”  From: The respiratory exchange of animals and man, by August Krogh, 1916, page 42.


Krogh’s Basal Metabolism System, 1916.  From: The respiratory exchange of animals and man by August Krogh, 1916, page 40.

“Krogh’s apparatus (fig. 15) [1913] which is a modification of an instrument constructed by Haldane and Douglas [1912], is furnished with valves and the air is circulated by the respiratory movements of the subject.  Carbon dioxide is absorbed in a vessel containing a charge of soda lime sufficient to absorb 1000 liters of carbon dioxide, a quantity produced by a man at rest in about 70 hours.  The recording spirometer gives a quantitative record of the respiratory movements and governs the admission of oxygen by closing an electric circuit at (5).  The oxygen from the cylinder is measured by the meter which records electrically by closing a circuit each time a certain quantity has been admitted.  Whenever an experiment has to be extended over a long period, or if the absorption of oxygen is very rapid as during heavy muscular work, the oxygen admitted must be nearly pure to prevent the oxygen percentage in the small apparatus from falling.

“The apparatus in its present form does not allow the direct determination of carbon dioxide.  When such determinations are desired samples of expired and inspired air are drawn from the vessels (2) and (10).  The respiratory quotient is determined by analysing these samples for carbon dioxide and oxygen.  The total respiratory exchange can also be measured over short periods by by multiplying the analytical results by the ventilation as measured from the graphic record.”


Basal Metabolism, 1918.  Used a Tissot spirometer. From  Can Med Assoc J. 1918 June; 8(6): 491–509. The determination of basal metabolism by the “Respiratory-valve and spirometer method” of indirect calorimetry, with an observation on a case of polycythemia with splenomegaly.  Maude E. Abbott


Benedict-Roth Basal Metabolism System, 1919.  From: Benedict FG, Miles WR, Roth P, Smith HM.  Human vitality and efficiency under prolonged restricted diet.  Published 1919 by the Carnegie Institute of Washington.


Basal Metabolism Laboratory Room, 1920.  System construction attributed to H.N. Elmer, 1135 Monadnock Building, Chicago, Ill.  From: Laboratory Manual of the Technic of Basal Metabolic Rate Determinations, Walter Meredith Boothby, Irene Sandiford, published 1920 W.B. Saunders. Page 36.


Haldane Gas Analyzers in a Basal Metabolism Laboratory, 1920.  From: Laboratory Manual of the Technic of Basal Metabolic Rate Determinations, Walter Meredith Boothby, Irene Sandiford, published 1920 W.B. Saunders. Page 57



McKesson Metabolor, 1921.  Variation of a Krogh Spirometer.  From: International Journal of Surgery, 1921, Volume 34.  Pages 260 and 261.


Middlewest Laboratories (Jones) Metabolimeter, 1921.  Found in Surgery, Gynecology & Obstetrics, Volume 32, June 1921, Page 5.  This is the Jones Metabolimeter.


Sanborn Handy Metabolimeter, 1921.  From The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, Volume 161, 1921, page 9.


Portable Benedict Basal Metabolism System, 1922.  From Basal Metabolism:  Its determination and application.  Frank Sanborn editor.  Sanborn Company Publishers, 1922. Page 81.


Portable Benedict Basal Metabolism System, 1922. From Modern Hospital, 1922, Volume 18, page 137.


Benedict-Roth Basal Metabolism System, 1922.  From the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, April 22nd, 1922, Volume 186, no 15, page 499.


Sanborn Handy Metabolimeter, 1922.  From, The American Physician, Volume 27, January, 1922, Page 80.


Design for a Basal Metabolism testing room, 1922.  Used a Tissot spirometer and a mask modified from a WWI gas mask.  From Basal Metabolism:  Its determination and application.  Frank Sanborn editor.  Sanborn Company Publishers, 1922. Page 57.


Collins Basal Metabolism System, 1924.  From the Canadian Medical Journal, 1924, probably the January Issue

Collins Benedict Oxy-Calorimeter, circa 1925.  From an advertising brochure.  Undated but likely from the late 1920’s.


Closed circuit respiration apparatus for measuring BMR, 1927.  Developed by F.G. Benedict. From: The Development of Methods for Determining Basal Metabolism of Mankind, Carpenter, Thorne M., The Ohio Journal of Science. v33 n5 (September, 1933), 297-314


Open-circuit respiration apparatus with helmet used for BMR measurements, 1933.  Developed by F.G. Benedict.  From: The Development of Methods for Determining Basal Metabolism of Mankind Carpenter, Thorne M. The Ohio Journal of Science. v33 n5 (September, 1933), 297-314


Basal Metabolism, 1934.  Found at Europeana.Eu.  From an educational film entitled “Methods of measuring metabolism and basal metabolism Krogh and Douglas bag”, Produced by the Department of Physiology, Cambridge University, 1934.

A basal metabolism test with a Krogh spirometer.  Subject is breathing through a soda-lime canister and the disappearance of oxygen is monitored on the kymograph drum.


Respiration Calorimeter for Chickens, 1937.  From: The effect of temperature, humidity and other factors on hatch of hen’s eggs and on energy metabolism of chick embryos, by H.G. Barott. Technical Bulletin #553. March 1937. United States Department of Agriculture, page 6.


Basal Metabolism measured in Cows, 1945.  Found at the webpage for the Brody Environmental Center.  Credited to “Bioenergetics and Growth” by Samuel Brody, 1945.

Collins Cow Metabolism System, circa 1945.  From an undated publicity photo.


Basal Metabolism, Cold Environment, 1945.  System for measuring basal metabolism in a cold environment.  From: Clothing Test Methods, National Research Council (U.S.). Subcommittee on Clothing, National Academies, 1945, Page 19.

Collins Metabolex, circa 1948.  From an undated publicity photo.

Collins Benedict-Roth Metabolism Apparatus, 1949.  From an advertising brochure from Warren E. Collins, Co.


Fleisch Metabometer, 1960.  From “New methods of studying gaseous exchange and pulmonary function” by Alfred Fleisch, published by Charles C. Thomas, 1960, page 10.


Fleisch Metabograph, 1960.  From “New methods of studying gaseous exchange and pulmonary function” by Alfred Fleisch, published by Charles C. Thomas, 1960, page 103.


Basal Metabolism testing, 1980’s.  Likely a Godart system.  Image from Mr. Kevin Hogben International.  Sales and Product Specialist Manager for Medisoft

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The diverse, quirky and mostly forgotten history of Pulmonary Function testing