Inventor Highlight: Zeppo Marx

May 15, 2015

Zeppo Marx - United States patent #3,426,747

There is an old expression: “Serious as a heart attack.” Clearly, cardiac health is not something that people joke around about. For that reason, it is more than a little ironic that a lifesaving invention for measuring the regularity of a heartbeat came from one of America’s most beloved comedy troupe members. But that’s exactly what Zeppo Marx, of the renowned Marx Brothers, created with his cardiac pulse rate monitor.

Nowadays we have all kinds of fitness devices that can measure heart rate and other types of fitness measurements from a wearable device. So it’s even more impressive that Zeppo envisioned, designed and patented his device in 1969, when the only thing anyone ever wore on his or her wrist was a watch or bracelet. He was truly ahead of his time.

The impetus for this idea was that Zeppo recognized prevention of heart attacks could be handled much more effectively if patients could know early on that something was amiss. Monitoring of the rate, amplitude and/or regularity of a person’s pulse who has heart issues is desirable at all times, but is especially important when it may be affected drastically - for instance, during periods of intense emotion or strenuous physical activity.

One important feature of Zeppo’s invention was its ability to alert the wearer of a change in the pulse from a predetermined norm, even during short periods of time. Knowing about this change allowed the wearer to take steps to mitigate the conditions or causes of whatever was having this profound effect on his or her heartbeat.

The device worked via an electric motor operated by a small electric cell with a permanent rotating magnet, held in a position corresponding to normal by the drag of the magnetic field of the magnet. A color-coded telltale advised of lesser pulse-rate variations in either direction. An audible alarm warned of abnormally high or low changes to the pulse rate. In this way, the wearer would immediately become aware of any deviation from the norm.

According to cardiologists there are some situations where tracking heart rates over time may be very beneficial:

  • If a patient has recently started an exercise program, a decrease in resting heart rate is one indication that fitness is improving. It takes about four to six weeks of consistent exercise before people see measurable changes in their resting heart rate.
  • When learning to use stress management techniques, a heart rate monitor can help to see whether techniques (for example, practicing deep breathing) help a patient’s heart rate go down.
  • Tracking heart rate along with activity may tell users which of their daily activities count as exercise.
  • Patients with heart problems can monitor their heart rate to know whether it is related to certain symptoms (such as lightheadedness).

For his contribution to cardiac health, the Innovation Alliance is proud to salute Zeppo Marx.. Because of his wisdom and forethought in recognizing a critical need, and then finding a substantive way to address it, there are untold numbers of people who have avoided life-threatening cardiac events.