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William Harvey

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William Harvey

What do we know about Harvey?

  • Dates: 1578 – 1657
  • Place of Birth: Kent, England
  • Education: Cambridge University, Medicine at Padua University, Italy
  • Career: 1609 St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Physician to James I and Charles I
  • Famous Publications: On the Motion of the Heart and Blood, 1628
  • Sources
  • Play: Harvey's Heart Race
  • Watch: William Harvey (2 minutes)

Illustration of William Harvey

Contribution to medicine

Harvey made a significant contribution to the development of medicine when he discovered that blood was pumped around the body in a circular motion. He studied cold blooded animals as their hearts beat slower, which allowed him to conclude that as the blood was being pumped around the body there was insufficient time for the heart to be making new blood, i.e. there was a fixed amount of blood in the body and that it flowed in one direction only.

This conclusion argued that bleeding was therefore of no medical benefit to a patient. This book more than any other previous books proved the work of Galen wrong in that he had argued the liver not the heart, was at the centre of the body and that it made new blood.

Factors involved in his work

Science and Technology

The invention of the water pump allowed Harvey to understand how the heart could pump blood around the body. As the pump did not exist when Galen was doing his work, such an idea would not have occurred to him.


Harvey knew that his theories about a fixed amount of blood being pumped around the body in a circular motion would be opposed by many other doctors. Many doctors had followed Galen’s work closely and made a lot of money from the bleeding of patients so opposed his findings. Harvey himself lost numerous patients who opposed his ideas. It was his determination and meticulous research that allowed this breakthrough in understanding the human body to occur.

Read the Harvey revision notes


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