A Brief History of the Ambulance

Toy Ambulance

Toy ambulances are toy models of ambulances specifically designed for kids. They are often included in a set of other miniature motor vehicles like fire trucks, police cars, etc. Toys with wheels like toy ambulances are some of the most popular toys. Little children love playing with them. You can see kids running around the house happily wheeling their toy ambulances pretending to be emergency responders.

These toys have exceptional entertainment and developmental value. They capture a child’s attention while also facilitating early development. As children play with their favourite toy ambulance, they learn more about their environment and they develop fundamental skills.

Most of us don’t really pay much attention to what our children are playing for as long as they are having fun and in a safe play environment. But there are times that something catches our attention and piques our curiosity. As adults, we know what an ambulance is and what it does but have you ever wondered about the history of ambulances?


The word ambulance comes from the Latin word “ambulare” which means “to walk or move about”. The word originally meant a moving hospital and refers to early medical care where patients are moved by lifting or wheeling.

First Ambulance

Historical finds suggest that people in the ancient times use carts to transport patients. But the first recorded use of the ambulance as an emergency transport was during the siege of Málaga by the Catholic monarchs against the Emirate of Granada in 1487. The Spanish forces during this time used horse-drawn carts to transport injured soldiers although they were not picked up until the battle had ended which resulted in many dying on the field.

Dominique Jean Larrey, who later became Napoleon Bonaparte’s chief physician, made a major change in usage of ambulances in battle. He designed the “flying ambulance” or “ambulances volantes” which was a horse-drawn wagon used to transport fallen soldiers. He continued to develop similar ambulance services for Napoleon’s armies and adapted them to the battlefield. For instance, he designed a litter which could be carried by a camel during the French campaign in Egypt.

Civilian and Hospital-based Services

Civilian ambulance services saw a major advancement during the cholera outbreak in London in 1832. Patients were driven in carriages to hospitals located at greater distances from each other.

The first known hospital-based ambulance service was based out of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center which was then known as Commercial Hospital in 1865. Many hospitals across the United States followed suit soon after. Edward Dalton is credited for creating New York City’s first ambulance services. Unlike other ambulance services during this time, Dalton’s ambulances carried medical equipment like splints and stomach pumps as well as painkillers like morphine.

Automobile-based Ambulance

When the automobile was still being developed in the late 19th century, ambulances were powered by competing automotive technologies then in existence like steam, gasoline and electricity. The first motor-powered ambulance was not brought into service until 1899 when 500 prominent local Chicago businessmen donated an automobile ambulance to Michael Reese Hospital.

Modern Ambulance

With the advancement of technology, modern ambulances are now custom-built with medical equipment and improved audible and visual warning equipment. They have also been designed to safeguard the health and welfare of ambulance crews and patients.


Next Up: Toy Ambulance Buying Guide

FREE Shipping Available & No customs charges for GB and EU customers!