The face of CPR

close up of someone performing compressions on a CPR manikin


According to legend, the body of a young woman was pulled from the river Seine in Paris in the late 1880s, suspected of drowning herself. The woman was never identified, and her mysterious, half-smiling face entranced a pathologist working at the mortuary so much that he had a plaster cast made of her face.

L'Inconnue de la Seine, the unknown woman of the SeineThis ‘death mask’, as they were known, then took on a life of its own and was replicated and sold many times over. She became known as L’Inconnue de la Seine, or ‘The unknown woman of the Seine’, and was a popular muse for writers and artists throughout Europe. Her face ended up on mantelpieces and in living rooms everywhere.

How did she become the ‘most-kissed’ face in the world?

Half a century later, a new chapter began for the girl with the mysterious face. A toy manufacturer from Norway, named Asmund Laerdal, had begun to experiment with using soft plastic to make his toys and dolls. He was approached to develop a doll to demonstrate CPR – a new technique at the time – and, having saved his own two-year-old son from a near-drowning, Laerdal was keen to be involved in the project.

He started work on making a realistic, life-sized manikin that could be used to successfully demonstrate cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He thought a female doll would be less intimidating to students, so he named the doll Anne after one of his most popular toy dolls. He also wanted the CPR doll to have a face with a natural and realistic appearance, believing that people would be more receptive to the training the more lifelike she was. 

Remembering a mask that he’d seen on the wall of his grandparents’ house in his youth, he chose L’Inconnue to be the face of his training doll and ‘Resusci Anne’ was born. That same face has now helped millions of people to learn the lifesaving skill of CPR.

If you’re not one of the 300 million people that have been trained in CPR, why not enrol in a course and meet the famous woman of the Seine yourself!

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