The Both brothers
The Both brothers are unknown in Australia, or anywhere
else for that matter, and yet these two South Australians
made significant contributions to the development of many
items of modern medical equipment.
Ted Both was an Australian inventor credited with the development
of a number of medical, military and other inventions. These
included a low-cost iron lung, a humidicrib, the
first portable electrocardiograph and the forerunner to
the modern fax machine he called a visitel. His
inventions gained him an OBE in 1940, and his work led to
Both being known as the Edison of Australia by
a staff reporter of the Australian Womens Weekly
(30 Aug 1941).
Edward Thomas Both was born 26 Apr 1908 at Caltowie, the
eldest of the five children of James Alexander Both and
Lucy Victoria Thomas. His youngest brother, Donald James
Ross was born 29 Jan 1914.
The Both children attended Caltowie Primary and Jamestown
High schools where Edward proved to be such a good student
that when he was sixteen he began studying at the Physics
Department at the University of Adelaide. There he caught
the attention of Sir Kerr Grant, an eminent physics professor,
who appointed him as his personal assistant. In 1932 Both
developed an electrocardiograph (ECG) and as a result the
impressed Grant had a facility installed next to the University
where Both could design and produce medical equipment. Unfortunately
this diverted Edward away from his studies and he never
completed his degree and when asked about this in later
life, he responded, 'I just never got round to it.'
Don, became the designer and the person to make the designs
The Both brothers worked in a facility called the Both
Laboratories established on the end of the western
wing of the old Armoury and Mounted Police Barracks behind
the SA Museum. This structure has since been demolished.
In 1937 Adelaide experienced a severe outbreak of Poliomyelitis
and the Both brothers were asked by the SA Health Department
to develop a cheap Iron Lung as the American version was
complex to use and expensive. The Both Cabinet Respirator
was quickly in production. During the summer of 1937–38,
the demand for the Iron lung was so great, that within an
hour of each one being completed it was being used by a
patient! The epidemic spread to England and Both move there
with the support of Lord Nuffield who undertook to manufacture
the Iron Lungs in the Morris factory to supply
the whole British Empire.
Some of Ted Both's productions are well-known even though
few know he was the man behind the product. These included:
• a device to record the rate of machine-gun fire,
and another which instantly detected flaws in gun-barrels.
• a three-wheeled front wheel drive, that could turn
in its own length, electric bread delivery van due to petrol
• the Visitel, a device that transmitted
handwriting or a drawing over any distance while it was
being written or drawn.
• the Davis Cup scoreboards.
• the 1956 Melbourne Olympics scoreboard.
The greatest contributions of the Both Laboratories
was in medical equipment. In 1953 Don Both, who remained
in Adelaide while Ted was in Sydney, designed the Humidicrib
which has since saved thousands of babies' lives. The brothers
also produced the first electro-encephalograph, as well
as x-ray equipment, nerve stimulators, foetal heart-recorders,
suction units, tomographs, defibrillators, cardioscopes
and blood transfusion equipment. All their apparatus was
manufactured in the Adelaide workshops of Both Equipment
Limited, then relocated to Tavistock Street (now Frome
Street) and later to King William Street in Kent Town.
Edward Both married Lily Eileen Naughton in 1937 in Victoria,
while Donald married Yvonne Watkins in 1939. Neither man
had children. Edward died 18 Nov 1987 Mount Beauty VIC and
Donald died 1 Sep 2005 SA.