Shine a Light on Those Backstage: Recognising the Engineers Behind Medical Technology

Our digitisation intern discusses some of the remarkable people behind medical technology.

When looking back at significant moments in medical history, it is easy to see the progression of medical technology along with the practice. From the replacement of dental keys with dental forceps, to the development of the heart-lung machine, medical technology has greatly advanced.

The manufacturing of this technology was often performed by instrument makers, specialised engineers in the fields of medicine and surgery. It was up to these men to deliver products that matched every detail of the original design to perfection. Anything less and the apparatus may not work at all. These were the men that were producing new technology. Their names are unforgettable.

Or are they? Having such important roles to play in the advancement of clinical practice, surely these men are remembered by all? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Aside from some brief mentions in published articles, it is rare to find much detail about the lives of instrument makers. All credit was given to the professional pioneering the technology, not the engineer.

As the research continues in the “Uncovering our Medical Instruments” project, the lack of information on instrument makers from history becomes more and more evident. This begs us to ask a question: Did they ever get the recognition they deserved?

The topic of instrument makers was brought up after digitising an artefact from our anaesthesia collection- the Portable Anaesthesia Apparatus:

Portable anaesthesia apparatus

This apparatus is a nitrous oxide/oxygen machine dating from 1955-1960. There is no hidden meaning in the name; this tool was an anaesthesia apparatus that could easily be transported from location to location. This particular machine was manufactured by the British Oxygen Company (BOC). With regards to manufacturers, most people would be satisfied knowing that the BOC made this product. However on closer inspection of this particular instrument, other names are mentioned:

Portable anaesthesia apparatus

BOC trademark (top left) with the names of Coxeter and King displayed around the edge.

Around the BOC trademark are the names “King” and “Coxeter”. After some digging into the archives, it was discovered that these names referred to two instrument makers; A. Charles King and James Coxeter.

Arthur Charles King was an engineer from London, active during the early 1900s. After the First World War, he set up his own company in London, manufacturing simple medical instruments to local physicians. As anaesthetic technology was advancing abroad, King was one of the first engineers to sell the machines in the UK. Thus, he made a name for himself in the anaesthesia world, [1]. Unfortunately, King’s business plummeted and was ultimately taken over by the British Oxygen Company in 1939.

James Coxeter was an active instrument maker during the 1800s, establishing his own business in 1836, [2]. Based in London, Coxeter was a supplier to many, including the University College Hospital, of which he was the chief instrument maker, [3]. Coxeters also specialised in anaesthetic equipment, including producing Boyle’s Anaesthetic Machine, designed by British anaesthetist Henry Boyle,[1]. The company grew over the years, but was also taken over by BOC. This will be why the names “King” and “Coxeter” are on the trademark.

For all the hard work behind the scenes, was a reference in a publication the best they could get? Thankfully, no. James Coxeter was such a respected instrument maker that he was able to publish articles in the Lancet, giving detailed descriptions of new instrument designs he had created. And it wasn’t just one publication. In fact, Coxeter was published in the Lancet several times, [4,5,6]. A side note to one article describes Coxeter’s contribution to medicine and surgery:

“We have examined the instruments described by Mr Coxeter, and think them ingenius modifications of those in use, and worthy the attention of the profession.” [4]

Although he was very much a member of the backstage crew, Coxeter, and many like himself, were able to get the proper recognition and thanks that they deserved. It is hoped that this article will be added to that list of thanks.

The Portable anaesthesia apparatus

The Portable anaesthesia apparatus

References
1. Wilkinson, D.J., 1987. A. Charles King: a unique contribution to anaesthesia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 80(8), p. 510-514. Available at: < http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1290960/>
2. Science Museum Group, Collectors Online- people. Coxeter. Available at: < http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk/detail.php?type=related&kv=46728&t=people>
3. Braithewaite, W., and Braithewaite, J., 1845. The Retrospect of Practical Medicine and Surgery: Being a Half-yearly Journal Containing a Retrospective View of Every Discovery and Practical Improvement in the Medical Sciences …, Volumes 10-12. W.A.Townsend Publishing Company.
4. Coxeter, J., 1845. New Surgical Instruments. The Lancet, Volume 2.
5. Coxeter, J., 1874. Aspirators. The Lancet, 103(2635), p. 319.
6. Coxeter, J., 1849. The Sonometer and instruments used in the application of glycerine in deafness. The Lancet, 54(1352), p. 109-110.

Uncovering our medical instruments – British Science Week 2017

In June 2016 we started an exciting project to digitise items from our museum collection. The project, which has been kindly funded by Museums Galleries Scotland, is sadly nearly at an end, so to celebrate all the amazing work that has been done we’re hosting a special drop-in session as part of British Science Week.

The drop-in session will give visitors the opportunity to view some items from our collection, learn about how they were used, take a look at the processes involved in their digitisation, and maybe take a few photos too!

The drop-in session takes place on Wednesday, 15th March 2017 from 1pm – 3pm. No need to book – just pop in to the College!

Horsley's Skull Trephine

Horsley’s Skull Trephine

So far, our digitisation intern has photograph over 300 items including our collection of 18th/19th century stethoscopes, apothecary cabinets, the surgical instruments of William Beatty (surgeon on board HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar), early 19th century x-ray tubes, Victorian quackery gadgets, and many other fascinating surgical instruments.

Surgical Instruments of William Beatty

Surgical Instruments of William Beatty

The collection dates back to the mid 1700s – the earliest item we have is a trephine set – and covers all areas of medicine, surgery and dentistry. You can read a little bit more about some of the items we’ve digitised and get updates on the project on our blog.

For more information on British Science Week 2017 please visit: https://www.britishscienceweek.org/

Flyer for our British Science Week event

Flyer for our British Science Week event

Events: January – June 2017

Our programme of events for the first half of 2017 is now available. We have some really exciting events coming up this year including our annual Goodall Symposium which will celebrate a very special medical milestone – the 150th annivesary of the publication of Joseph Lister’s ground-breaking article on antiseptic surgery. There’ll also be the chance to learn more about our digitisation project “Uncovering our Medical Instruments”, and our beautiful College Hall will house a unique pop-up art installation as part of Festival of Museums. Download our programme (7MB) to find out more.

Events programme January - June 2017

Events programme January – June 2017.

The image of catgut ligature used on the front of our events programme is a nod to our Goodall Lecture, Safer Surgery – the Lasting Legacy of Joseph Lister in June 2017. In addition to samples of catgut ligatures in our museum collection, our archives contain correspondence between Joseph Lister and William Macewen, on the preparation and use of catgut. Both had articles in the British Medical Journal of 1881 (i, 150, 185) detailing the development of this material as a key component of antiseptic surgery.

Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars – Winter/Spring Programme 2017

We have an exciting programme lined up for our winter/spring 2017 Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars in partnership with the Centre for the History of Medicine (part of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University) – we hope you can join us!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017
Poles and Jews in Wartime Scotland: the Experience of Edinburgh’s Polish School of Medicine
Speaker: Dr Kenneth Collins (University of Glasgow and Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
A talk examining the relationships and tensions between poles and Jews at the Polish School of Medicine, based on archival records and testimonies.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017
Vitamins on Trial: Folic Acid as a Technology of Reproduction and Public Health
Speaker: Dr Salim Al-Gailani (University of Cambridge)
This talk examines the history of folic acid, its implications beyond reproduction, and the role of consumer activism in shaping public health policy.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Philanthropy, Patriotism and Paediatric Nursing: Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children through five objects
Speaker: Dr Iain Hutchison (University of Glasgow)
Taking five objects as focal points, Dr Hutchison will discuss the roles played by charity, emotion, patriotism and conflict, and by often under-valued nursing care during the hospital’s pre-NHS era.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017
Regulation and Resistance – a history of non-human antibiotic use in the US and UK (1949-2013)
Speaker: Dr Claas Kirchhelle (University of Oxford)
This presentation will examine the long history of antibiotic use in Western food production, the development of agricultural antibiotic use, and examine why regulations designed to curb bacterial resistance developed differently in the US and Europe.

The seminars take place at 5:30pm (tea/coffee from 5pm) in the library reading room at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. They are free to attend but please contact library@rcpsg.ac.uk or call 0141 221 6072 to book as places are limited.

Glasgow History of Medicine programme - winter/spring 2017

Glasgow History of Medicine programme – winter/spring 2017

 

 

Glasses through the Ages: What’s Your Style?

Our digitisation intern, Kirsty Earley, takes a look at some of the fascinating items in our spectacles collection.

Eric Morecambe, John Lennon, Harry Potter – all figures who made glasses iconic. There are scores of celebrities (and fictional characters!) who have had an impact on the popularity of certain styles of glasses, which was certainly unique to the 20th century. From monocles to aviators, the styles of glasses and frames available today are as varied as ever. What were once used as modes of magnifying written text can now simply be worn as a fashion accessory. And with any item of fashion, there were clear trends in eyewear throughout history.

Folding pince-nez style spectacles

Folding pince-nez style spectacles

It is uncertain as to who invented glasses for eyewear, but it is known that they originated in Italy between the 13th and 14th centuries.1 Originally, glasses did not have sides2 that hooked over either ear, but instead were held on the bridge of the nose. This style was known as the Rivet Spectacle (Figure 1). Due to the lack of support, it wasn’t uncommon for the wearer to have to adjust to a position where the glasses wouldn’t fall off!3

illustration of Rivet Spectacles

Figure 1: Illustration of Rivet Spectacles

From the rivet emerged the Scissor Spectacles, which were originally manufactured during the 1700s.4 Named after their similarity to the scissor shape, these glasses were linked to a handle for easier use. Understandably, these glasses were not for constant wear, but rather occasional viewing. Their design led the way for a style of spectacle popular amongst opera fans – the Lorgnette.

The lorgnette was invented in 1770 by George Adams.3 Although inspired by the design of scissor spectacles, the lorgnette differs in that one lens is directly attached to the handle rather than both (Figure 2).

Lorgnettes

Figure 2: Lorgnettes

The example of a lorgnette in the College museum collection contains a spring mechanism, making it easier to carry (Figure 3).

Lorgnettes

Figure 3: The lorgnettes had a spring mechanism which enabled the wearer to fold them away when not needed.

Another style of spectacle held within the museum collection is the Pince-Nez (Figure 4). Literally translated to “to pinch the nose”, pince-nez glasses were popularly worn by President Theodore Roosevelt. Although lacking sides, the pince-nez remained stationary due to the pinch of the bridge of the spectacle on the nose, and could avoid damage by securing an ear chain to one side.

pince-nez

Figure 4: Pince-nez

The production of the pince-nez remained active well into the 20th century, and is still worn by some people today.

Frames with sides passing over either ear had been around since around the early 18th century, but this style became more and more popular during the 20th century. By this point in time, plastic frames, as well as metal frames, also became available for purchase. These frames tended to be much more durable and comfortable.

Wire framed spectacles

Wire framed spectacles

After the founding of the National Health Service in 1948, members of the public could receive free eye tests and also claim a free pair of glasses through the NHS.3 Although not the most aesthetically pleasing glasses, the number of people requiring spectacles was high. This ultimately led to glasses being seen as a fashion accessory rather than a sign of poor eyesight. Indeed today, the style and colour of glasses worn by an individual can reflect part of their personality, their identity.

Although the primary function of glasses in aiding eyesight has not changed over the years, the styles and designs have. There is now greater choice than ever, with even more emphasis on how the glasses look rather than what they do.

References

  1. Stein, H.A., Stein, R.M., and Freeman, M.I., 2012. The Ophthalmic Assistant: A Text for Allied and Associated Ophthalmic Personnel. Elsevier Health Sciences: China.
  2. The College of Optometrists, 2016. A bit on the side – The development of spectacle sides. [online] Available at: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/spectacles/side.cfm.
  3. The College of Optometrists, 2016. Rivet Spectacles. [online] Available at: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/spectacles/rivet.cfm.
  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2016. Museum of Vision: Spectacles 1700s. [online] Available at: http://www.museumofvision.org/collection/sets/?key=26.

Update (22nd December 2016): Many thanks to Neil Handley (@neilhandleyuk), curator of the British Optical Association Museum at the College of Optometrists, for lending his expertise to correct some inaccuracies in an earlier version of this post.

Helping others

Latest blog post from our digitisation intern, Kirsty Early.

A recent focus of research for the digitisation project has been a medical bag dating from the 1930s. More specifically, the focus has been on the doctor who owned the medical bag, Dr. Maud Perry Menzies.

Medical bag of Dr Maud Perry Menzies

Medical bag of Dr Maud Perry Menzies

Dr. Menzies earned her medical degree at the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1934. Not only was she one of the minority of females graduating from medicine at that time, but she was the top ranking student in Surgery, receiving the Sir William Macewen Medal for her efforts.

Menzies had a passion for helping and healing members of the public, which was evident in her work as a general practitioner and a medical officer [1]. The outbreak of war lead to the spreading of many infectious diseases across Europe, including Diphtheria. This is an airborne condition caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium Diphtheriae. An indicator of infection is the appearance of a grey membrane at the back of the throat, which can lead to breathing and eating problems.

Due to its mode of transmission, diphtheria was particularly prevalent in major cities such as Glasgow. The child death rate in Glasgow was the highest in Europe at the time, primarily due to the crowded and unsanitary conditions of the slums [2]. Thankfully, the vaccine for diphtheria had been in practice since the 1920s, so action could be taken to prevent the spread of the disease. The vaccination would have been administered by an intramuscular injection using a syringe and hypodermic needle, such as the one pictured below (Fig 1).

Hypodermic needle

Fig 1: Hypodermic needle

Other infectious diseases would have required multi-puncture vaccinations, with several needles puncturing the skin simultaneously. This method was accomplished using vaccinators (Fig 2.). The needles were dipped in the vaccine, which would then be injected into the patient during the puncture.

Vaccinator

Fig 2: Vaccinator

As an assistant medical officer of health, Dr. Menzies launch an immunisation campaign for diphtheria in Rutherglen. She also went on to work for the RAMC during the European Campaign of the Second World War, returning to Glasgow to become the principal medical officer for the school health service [1]. Such was her drive for helping others.

References
1. Dunn, M., and Wilson, T.S. 1997. Obituaries: Maud Perry Menzies. The British Medical Journal, 2, 433.
2. Reid, E., 2014. The lesson my father taught me. Herald Scotland [online]. Available at: http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/13168642.The_lessons_my_father_taught_me/

Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars – Autumn 2016 Programme

The Centre for the History of Medicine (part of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow invite you to a series of free seminars on medical history.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Building for the mentally ill; from Bethlem to the community
Professor Richard Mindham (University of Leeds)

Tuesday, 6 December 2016
“Do you have a frog to guide you?”: Exploring the ‘asylum’ spaces of R.D. Laing
Dr Cheryl McGeachan (University of Glasgow)

Meetings take place at 5:30pm in the library at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (tea and coffee from 5pm). It’s free to attend but please book (library@rcpsg.ac.uk or call 0141 221 6072).

Programme of talks for the Autumn sessions of the Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars

Programme of talks for the Autumn sessions of the Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars