Robert Hingson – Founder Of Brother’s Brother Foundation

BBF's Founder Dr. Robert Hingson with his jet injector, a needle-free inoculation device.

Dr. Robert Hingson in Liberia, 1961

Maybe it is not really so surprising. After all, Robert A. Hingson grew up with an interest in health and caring for others. He attended the University of Alabama, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1935, and then entered the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. From that institution he received a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1938. What followed was a series of positions in the field of anesthesiology.

  • 1943 – Director of Anesthesia, Philadelphia Lying-In Hospital
  • 1945 – Professor of Anesthesiology, University of Tennessee School of Medicine
  • 1948 – Professor of Anesthesia Research, Johns Hopkins University
  • 1951 – Professor of Anesthesiology, Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and Director of Anesthesia, University Hospitals of Cleveland, Ohio
  • 1968 – Professor of Anesthesia, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Director of Anesthesia, Magee Women’s Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

During these years spent in anesthesiology, Dr. Hingson’s innovative efforts led to three monumental inventions and methods that continue to relieve pain and suffering worldwide today. He invented a portable respirator anesthesia gas machine and resuscitator called the Western Reserve Midget. This machine is highly transportable and allows for the delivery of a short-term, general anesthetic. He also performed extensive experiments in the use of anesthesia to prevent pain during childbirth. These efforts won international recognition and led to the invention of the continuous caudal anesthesia techniques. However, Dr. Hingson is best known in the public health field for his jet injector, a tool that has enabled efficient, mass, needle-less inoculation worldwide against such diseases as smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, tetanus, leprosy, poliomyelitis and influenza. The “peace gun,” as it is known, allows the inoculation of 1,000 persons per hour with several simultaneous vaccines.

Aside from the academic interest in medicine that led to these innovations, Dr. Hingson’s involvement in the field of health had a more personal side.

“We leave the luxury of our living room with its color television and stuffed furniture and hurry across our manicured grass lawn. But then, alas, as if through magic, our neighbor’s eight-room house and his garden of flowers have vanished. In their place is a grass hut. A toothless, tuberculous, blind-from-trachoma grandmother, old at forty-six, stands in the doorway. Your neighbor’s wife has just died in childbirth, lying on a straw mat over a mud floor covered with flies. Two of the children are sick with malaria; all have worms; two are coughing following recovery from measles. The year-old baby died last week from malnutrition. None of the children have shoes. Only one has ever been to school. All are physically and physiologically hungry. The father makes $900 a year. . . . Your tendency is to doubt your eyes and your ears and your brain. Yet this is a true picture. A billion people in the world live under the conditions just described.”

It was this vision of a billion people suffering that led him, over the years, to organize and lead many thousands of medical service personnel to volunteer their services in developing countries, usually during their vacation time. To this end, Dr. Hingson, in association with Baptist World Alliance, conducted a medical mission survey in 1958 which resulted in the founding of Brother’s Keeper, a volunteer, non-sectarian group dedicated to the purpose of linking America’s vast medical resources to global health care needs.

Brother’s Keeper was dedicated primarily to providing immunizations in needy countries across the globe. In 1958 a Nigerian medical student protested that “We don’t need a keeper; we need a brother.” The point was taken and the organization’s name changed to “The Brother’s Brother Foundation” or BBF. From 1958 to 1980 the foundation immunized over 10 million people.

Through Dr. Hingson’s leadership, BBF’s mission broadened to include other types of aid. When larger international agencies like the World Health Organization and Rotary International expanded their support of immunization programs, BBF focused increasingly on other sorts of assistance (i.e., donating medical supplies and equipment, seed, other agricultural inputs and educational materials). In 1981 Dr. Hingson retired from BBF. He was succeeded by his son, Luke Hingson. While Dr. Hingson is no longer leading the organization, his vision remains.