When you think about artificial insemination, you probably don’t normally think about the fact that it’s the oldest of the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs). The concept of artificial insemination isn’t a new one at all. For a couple of centuries, people have been using artificial insemination, or at least talking about it. The practice really spun up into high gear during the 1950s, but for centuries before it had been the subject of study and discussion.
Legend tells us that the practice may have been tried as early as the 1400s. Juana, who was the wife of King Henry IV of Castile, may have been the subject of attempts at artificial insemination.
The next look we get at artificial insemination is from a physician, John Hunter, during the late 1700s. In 1790, he published the results of artificial insemination attempts in a medical journal.
It was almost a hundred years later that we see efforts in Russia, in 1899, to hone the actual practices of artificial insemination. By 1909, the Catholic Church declares its opposition to the technique.
In the 1930’s, science begins to really consider the issue. A rabbit is successfully conceived via artificial insemination in 1939. This is followed by a rather dark time in the history of artificial insemination, in which Nazi doctors perform the technique as experiments on Jews, gypsies and other concentration camp victims.
Artificial insemination took several leaps forward in the 1950s. In 1950, scientists at Cornell began to add antibiotics to the sperm solution in order to help the process. In 1953, researchers were able to confirm the first pregnancy from artificial insemination using frozen sperm.
By the 1970s, artificial insemination becomes commercialized, leading to the creation of the sperm bank industry and leading to more advanced techniques such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and IVF.
The technique has become more and more popular. In 1987, there were around 172,000 artificial insemination attempts that resulted in about 65,000 births.
Interestingly enough, today’s actual techniques used in artificial insemination were first tested with animals. Specifically, dairy farmers who wanted to improve milk production first would use the technique to gather the sperm of bulls that had preferred genetic composition and use them to impregnate cows.