A child with artificial legs in 1898

    A young girl with her doll and artificial legs in the United Kingdom in the late 19th century.

    The legs were manufactured by James Gillingham (1839-1924).  James Gillingham pioneered the development of articulated artificial limbs.  Originally working as a shoemaker, Gillingham first started making artificial limbs after a local man in the town of Chard, Somerset, lost an arm firing a cannon for a celebratory salute in 1863.  The man’s arm was so badly shattered that it had to be amputated to the shoulder socket.

    He then began making prostheses on a permanent basis making him one of the first few specialists.  Chard eventually became a major centre of the British artificial limb industry. 

    The Chard Museum is dedicating a part of its collection to him as it includes a representation of his consulting room, including several examples of his prosthesis.

    The photo originates from Science & Society Picture Library.


    Prosthetics have been mentioned throughout history.  The earliest recorded mention is the warrior queen Vishpala in the Rigveda.  The Egyptians were early pioneers of the idea, as shown by the wooden toe found on a body from the New Kingdom.  Roman bronze crownshave also been found, but their use could have been more aesthetic than medical.

    An early mention of a prosthetic comes from the Greek historian Herodotus, who tells the story of Hegesistratus, a Greek diviner who cut off his own foot to escape his Spartan captors and replaced it with a wooden one.

     

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