Old photo of bed attached to bicycle is not the world’s first ambulance service

15 November 2021
What was claimed

A photo of a bicycle-like vehicle, with an attached bed for carrying patients, depicts the first ambulance service.

Our verdict

The photo is from 1941 whereas (in the UK at least) ambulance services began forming during the 19th century.

A Facebook post depicts what it claims is photographic proof of the world’s first ambulance service.

It shows what appears to be a bicycle-like vehicle with an attachment carrying a patient. A caption reads: “The world’s first ambulance service”. 

It isn’t.

The photo is real, and was taken in July 1941. Getty Images states that it shows a one-man anti-gas ambulance and resuscitator, which was designed and made for use by the Home Guard (a volunteer citizen militia prepared to defend Britain in the event of German invasion during the Second World War).

While ambulatory-type services in the military, which took wounded soldiers from battlefields, have been around since at least 15th century Spain, it wasn’t until the 19th century that civilian ambulance services emerged. The first known hospital-based service was stationed out of Commercial Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1865.  

Civilian ambulance services were introduced in the UK from the late 19th century. The first, a horse-drawn service, was based at the Liverpool Northern Hospital from 1884. 

Some accounts suggest the earliest record of an ambulance (i.e. a vehicle used to transfer a patient to care) may date back as far as the sixth century to the Byzantine Empire.

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