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Moments in Surgical History |

George Tiemann and the American Surgical Instrument Trade in the Preantiseptic Era

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DrPH
Arch Surg. 1998;133(3):338. doi:10-1001/pubs.Arch Surg.-ISSN-0004-0010-133-3-ssh0398.
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IN THE 1820s, AN INDIGENOUS, albeit small, surgical instrument industry came into existence in Boston, Mass, New York City, and Philadelphia, Pa. At that time, various artisans and cutlers, most of them recent immigrants from Europe, began to advertise themselves as surgical instrument fabricators. Despite the emergence of this fledgling domestic trade, medical and surgical practitioners influenced by long-standing English and French traditions still preferred foreign-made instruments, deeming them generally better in design and workmanship. This preference for foreign surgical implements waned only when American firms demonstrated an ability to produce tools of equal quality. This occurred in the 1840s and 1850s, when the likes of the German immigrant George Tiemann (1795-1868) and the English artisan William Goulding (born 1805) were at the zenith of their creative skills in New York City.

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A Tiemann & Co hand-manufactured Otis US Army compact field set (≈1880). Selling for approximately $150, this 3-tiered military surgical kit came in a mahogany brass-bound case that was lined with fitted, oil-dyed velvet. The black ebony handles on the 40 plus instruments, although beautiful to look at and wonderful to hold, could not be adequately sterilized and dates this particular set to a period before antisepsis was widely accepted. (Courtesy of the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, Cleveland, Ohio. Photographer: James M. Edmonson, PhD.)

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