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A History of the First “Test Tube” Babies



Artificial insemination is not something new. A lot of people have already used it and would use it again. It gave chance to millions of women around the world to become mothers. Infertility and other problems force people to search for alternatives. Ethical issues apart, artificial insemination made so many families happy by giving them a chance to conceive.

There is no single creator of the approach, as a lot of people working on the method to make it a reality. Scientists had to go a long way to master the method and make it widely available.

First steps

First ideas of insemination came along in the 18th century. It is obvious that the first experiments were conducted on animals and plants. Humans were out of the equation. For example, the strongest bull’s semen would impregnate thousands of cows on the farm. His semen would improve the genetic material of the farm animals.

Scientific curiosity pushed doctors to go further and try the same approach on women with conceiving issues. In 1884 Dr. William Pancoast from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia performed the first artificial insemination on a woman. She could not get pregnant for a very long time, so everyone considered her infertile. As a matter of fact, her husband was the one to blame: his semen was not active enough.

When the woman came to see the doctor he examined and anesthetized her. One of his students had preliminary masturbated into a jar. Dr. Pancoast used a syringe to insert the sperm into the woman’s uterus. He never told her the truth about her mysterious pregnancy.  Nine months later she gave birth to a child. This unethical behavior gave birth to the modern science of artificial insemination.

In Vitro fertilization

In Vitro fertilization (IVF) is another way for women to conceive. In 1878 Walter Heape managed to transfer embryos from one rabbit to another. This was the first successful attempt to fertilize eggs outside of the body. British scientists Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe took over when they conducted a series of experiments on women in the 1970s. They practically created the first “test-tube” baby.

In the early stages of IVF therapy, women did not take any fertility medication. Doctors simply monitored their ovulation cycles in order to obtain the mature egg. This technique was improved with practice. Doctors no longer perform laparoscopy but use vaginal ultrasound to harvest the eggs. These innovations increased the success rate of the procedure.


The described methods provided a fertile future for a lot of women around the world. Its importance is difficult to underestimate. Artificial insemination has posed several ethical and moral issues that are still debated. Every parent has to decide whether to tell his or her children about the origins of the pregnancy. Should children know more about their biological fathers? Should a woman conceive a child with the sperm of her dead husband? Only courts could resolve these and many other issues associated with artificial inseminations and IVF. Despite all the legal implications, alternative methods of impregnation made a lot of people happy.