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Moments in Surgical History |

The American Surgical Instrument Trade in the Aseptic Era

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DrPH
Arch Surg. 1998;133(4):467. doi:10-1001/pubs.Arch Surg.-ISSN-0004-0010-133-4-ssh0498.
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THE MACHINE age of surgical instrument manufacturing (post-1890) came about partly because of the need for "aseptible" implements. Even though final finishing still entailed much detail work by hand, there was a necessity for simpler instruments that proved more compatible with the dictates of aseptic surgical practices; these instruments were most easily produced by die-forging techniques and stamping presses. The 1-piece alloy steel instrument, devoid of superfluous ornamentation, supplanted the gleaming, highly polished English cast steel instrument fitted into a carefully constructed ebony, ivory, or mother-of-pearl handle. The elegance and quality of surgical implements would henceforth be defined strictly by the functionality and simplicity of design, characteristics paralleling the "new" industrial era virtues of asepsis and machine age production.

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A Kny-Scheerer Co, New York City, machine-manufactured railway surgery set (≈1914). These fully sterilizable, all-metal instruments were imported from Germany and then placed in an American-made wooden carrying case. This particular kit was of a German Army pattern and used on the Erie Railroad. The Kny-Scheerer Co was an American business with German parent ties. During World War I, and working under the legalities of the Alien Property Act, the company's assets were seized and subsequently sold to "nonaliens." (Courtesy of the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, Cleveland, Ohio. Photographer: James M. Edmonson, PhD.)

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