3. Bellevue Hospital operated the country’s second hospital-based ambulance service

Bellevue Hospital fence

Bellevue Hospital played a significant role in the history of the emergency ambulance, as it operated the nation’s second hospital-based ambulance service. Prior to the system’s creation, those suffering from all sorts of medical emergencies had to get to hospitals however they could manage. Because getting to the hospital was a top priority, there was little emphasis placed on trying to temporarily mitigate symptoms like bleeding. A U.S. Army surgeon named Edward Dalton proposed to the New York Hospital Board that the city should adopt some form of ambulance system similar to military ambulances.

The board adopted five horse-drawn ambulances in June 1869, and according to the commissioner’s report, “Each ambulance shall have a box beneath the driver’s seat, containing a quart flask of brandy, two tourniquets, a half-dozen bandages, a half-dozen small sponges, some splint material, pieces of old blankets for padding, strips of various lengths with buckles, and a two-ounce vial of persulphate of iron.” This paved the way for emergency ambulance services at Long Island College Hospital and Eastern District Hospital in 1873.

By 1891, the Bellevue Hospital received 4,392 ambulance calls per year. The sheer quantity of calls led the hospital to have “the record for the largest number of telephone calls to any public institution in the country.” Though, the hospital needed a more efficient system that would ensure faster arrival times and less confusion. Calls would first go to Madison Square Central Office, which would then be dispatched to the local police headquarters, which then would have to contact the particular hospital. Nothing changed until 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson recommended that a single number be created for emergencies, thus sparking the birth of 9-1-1.