History of the hypospray

I’ve been reading Jack Vance’s The Narrow Land lately. When it comes to imaginative SFF and, uh, breadth of word choice, I just can’t find a better author. Seriously the guy was a grandmaster and it’s criminal that he’s not more well known. I obviously can’t gush enough about him.


At any rate, I was making my way through the book’s second entry, “The Masquerade on Dicantropus,” when something jumped out at me.

“Hypo-spray”? Weren’t those ubiquitous in the Star Treks?


It doesn’t really surprise me anymore when I discover threads in modern(ish) works that lead back to older stories and writers, but it is rather cool.

My interest piqued, I did a little Googling. And I was informed by Wikipedia that the hypospray is actually a real (though flawed) thing. In reality, “jet injectors” haven’t made it because the risk of contamination from the transfer of blood and other biological material hasn’t been eliminated. But the technology of injecting a high-pressure jet of liquid through the skin without a needle is a real thing, and it goes back quite a while. Amazing, the things I don’t know.

According to Wiki, the first of such injections were accidentally administered in the 19th century by factory grease guns.

“Hmmm…Hey Henry, come over here a sec, I wanna try something.”

The first recorded use of the tech in SFF appears to have occurred in a 1947 radio episode of The Shadow. Amazingly, that seems to have been the same year that the first “hypospray” was introduce for clinical evaluation.

Script writer Herb Baumgartner must have been up on his reading to have known about this promising, new, up-and-coming technology, and I think that’s a good lesson for aspiring writers of any kind – lots of cool ideas to be harvested and cultivated from things that are going on in the world around us.

Wikipedia credits Vance with having mentioned the devices in his 1956 novel To Live Forever, but the short noted above was actually written in 1951 (unless the “hypo” bit was edited in for the Narrow Land collection).

Then Asimov mentioned such a device in The Naked Sun (which I’ve read, but apparently missed this).

Either way, the concept was well-established before Star Trek got to it, and yet the Roddenberry legacy was the first employer to come to mind for me. Kind of reminds me of how Star Wars has eclipsed anything and anyone before it to have used laser swords.






8 thoughts on “History of the hypospray

    1. Yeah, that’s why I read they never entered widespread use. I’m surprised the military has used them so recently (though maybe they’re improved versions?). Thanks for sharing, Alexandru!


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