What Did William Harvey Do?


Quick Answer

Englishman William Harvey, a 17th-century physician, was the first to discover and document the process of blood circulation in the body. He identified the essential role the heart plays in the circulatory system.

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Full Answer

When Harvey studied the heart, he found that it continually pumped blood through the arteries and throughout the body before receiving it back through the veins of the heart, in a circular manner. To come to this conclusion, Harvey performed countless dissections on serpents and fish before advancing to human bodies. Prior to this time, it was believed that the liver produced blood that the body absorbed.

Harvey published his findings in his 72-page book, "Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals," in 1628. Although Harvey pinpointed the correct operation of the circulatory system, he was unaware of the existence of capillaries or the role of oxygen in this process. Still, this was his most important contribution to medicine, and he is regarded as the father of modern physiology. Harvey's discovery ignited controversy in the medical community, and many doctors were slow to accept his findings as fact.

Harvey wrote another influential book, "Essays on the Generation of Animals," in 1651, and served as physician to two kings, Charles I and James I. He died on June 3, 1657.

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