Photo of Forrest Bird

Forrest Bird

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Medicine
For his pioneering inventions in cardiopulmonary medicine, including the medical respirator; devices that helped launch modern-day medical evacuation capabilities; and intrapulmonary percussive ventilation (IPV) technologies, which have saved the lives of millions of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other conditions.

Forrest Bird on his love of flying

Even as a boy, Forrest Bird’s mechanical ability was impressive. His family told the story about Henry Ford, attending a party at the Bird house, noting with wonder the boy’s use of old Model T parts to build tractors.rnrnDecades later, Bird would have an impressive list of inventions behind his own name. And some of those were truly life-saving.rnrnAn aviator and engineer, Bird invented medical respirators that helped save lives across the globe. Bird flew numerous aircraft for the U.S. military during and after World War II and, as jets were introduced, he developed breathing devices to enable pilots to reach higher altitudes.rnrnThen he began modifying the respirators, which became indispensable in medicine. He is credited with introducing the first low-cost, mass produced respirators in the 1950s. His “Mark 7’’ was the first commercially available respirator. And his “Baby Bird’’ respirator, for children, is credited with saving the lives of countless infants.rnrnHis company, Percussionaire, still produces the devices.rnrnHis work was deeply personal: “I work as if I were going to be the next person to need a respirator,’’ the Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying in 1981.rnrnBy Robert Warren