The identity of the model for the original CPR dummy has been lost to history, but there is a true and interesting story behind the manikin’s origin
Move over, Cinderella. There is another woman who qualifies as the most famously kissed person in history, and you may have even kissed her yourself if you’ve ever taken a CPR class. Although there are multiple present-day manufacturers, the manikin – not to be confused with the word “mannequin” – used to teach CPR originally and often still goes by the name of “CPR Annie.” She was first introduced to the world in the 1950s by toymaker Asmund Laerdal, but her history goes back even further.
Practicing on a manikin is the best way to learn how to correctly administer CPR. You’ll practice chest compressions and breathe air into the manikin to learn rescue breathing, and you’ll see and feel the chest rise and fall accordingly. This teaching aid is very realistic and therefore extremely helpful.
There are numerous modern CPR dummies or manikins, but the face that was originally used was modeled from an unknown young woman whose body was retrieved from the Seine river in France at the end of the 19th century.
The story goes that a death mask was made while her body was kept at the Paris morgue. Somehow, the mask made it out of the morgue and was soon copied and sold in the city’s souvenir shops. It became so popular that several production factories were needed to keep up with the demand. Perhaps the only thing everyone completely agrees on about the story is that the death mask’s name is “L’Inconnue de la Seine.”
Old meets new
Fast-forward to the late 1950s, when Dr. Peter Safar was searching for someone to help him create a life-sized doll that could be used to practice his new method of cardiopulmonary resuscitation combined with chest compressions. He partnered with Asmund Laerdal, a Norwegian toy manufacturer, to create the realistic manikins.
Laerdal selected “L’Inconnue de la Seine” as the face for his dummy. It’s sometimes incorrectly reported that CPR Annie’s face was actually modeled after Dr. Safar’s daughter, who died of an asthma attack. It is true, though, that the original manikin was named “Resusci Anne” by the toymaker, which was Americanized to “CPR Annie.”
Realistic training makes it memorable
Many credit Dr. Safar’s insistence that his new resuscitation procedure is learned by practicing it on lifelike manikins for the technique’s quick acceptance. He believed it was important to find a way to move resuscitation methods beyond the medical field and out into the public. CPR Annie proved to be an effective solution.
Today, Annie has a male counterpart, as well as a manikin the size of a baby. The trio—under a variety of names—helps people around the world learn to master the basics of CPR.