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Moments in Surgical History |

Peter Rose and the Early American Surgical Instrument Trade

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DrPH
Arch Surg. 1998;133(2):228. doi:10-1001/pubs.Arch Surg.-ISSN-0004-0010-133-2-ssh0298.
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ESPECIALLY FOR THE 18th and 19th century American surgeon, the practice of surgery—the art, craft, and fledgling science of working with one's hands—was largely defined by its tools. At least prior to the acceptance of antisepsis and asepsis throughout this country (in the late 1880s), a better surgical instrument could lead to a better operative result. Progress in surgical instrumentation and surgical technique went "hand in hand." Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837) was an exemplar of this tradition when he devised an instrument that was the progenitor of all tonsil guillotines (1828). Seven decades later (1892), John Benjamin Murphy (1857-1916) conceived a small metal "button" that revolutionized surgery by demonstrating the feasibility of joining portions of the intestine without sutures. Physick's tools might have been handmade while Murphy's implement was machine manufactured, but their sheer presence highlighted the ability of the surgical instrument industry to assist surgeons in caring for patients.

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A Peter Rose hand-manufactured minor surgical set (≈1830). Containing 11 knives, bistouries, suture guides, and other instruments, all with mother-of-pearl handles and highly ornate ferrules, the case originally belonged to Erasmus D. Hudson (1805-1880), a well-known New York City surgeon. The surgical tools were passed on to Hudson's son, whose calling card is attached by spirit gum (courtesy of Alex Peck, Antique Scientifica, Charleston, Ill).

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