Moments in Surgical History |

The Surgeon's Glove

Ira M. Rutkow, MD, MPH, DrPH
Arch Surg. 1999;134(2):223. doi:10.1001/archsurg.134.2.223.
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ONCE ANTISEPTIC and aseptic techniques had been finally accepted as part of routine surgical practice (mid 1890s), it was inevitable that other elaborate operating room rituals would similarly take hold. The use of gloves, face masks, operating gowns, and caps naturally evolved. In 1843, along with other developments in rubber processing, the procedure of vulcanization (treating crude rubber with sulfur or its compounds and subjecting it to heat to make it nonplastic and increase its strength and elasticity) was patented and the use of rubber gloves became a possibility. However, surgeons were generally reluctant to use such devices, primarily because until the 1870s no truly flexible, functional glove had been designed. This situation changed in 1878, when Thomas Forster, an employee of the India-Rubber Works in Surrey, England, was granted both British and United States patents for the "manufacture of gloves for surgical operations."

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One of the original rubber surgical gloves (preserved in lucite) designed by William Halsted and fabricated by the Goodyear Rubber Company of New York City. (Courtesy of The Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Md.)

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