Patent no. 33546. Filing year 1890.
"Surgical Splint," George Beacock et al.
George Beacock's 1889 patent for surgical splints, above, used rawhide (dried cattle skin) to hold bone fractures in place. The process involved stretching and fastening moistened rawhide around a mold "conforming to the limb." While the rawhide was still wet, holes could be made in the splint to allow for ventilation and lacing. Beacock claimed that, when dry and placed on a set limb, the rawhide formed an "almost indestructible" splint.
The technique best known today for holding a set fracture in place is a cast made of bandages that are coated with plaster of Paris; this method was already in use in Beacock's day. Though plaster casts had been used by Arab physicians for centuries, they were first introduced into Western medicine in 1852 by a Dutch army surgeon, Antonius Mathijsen. Before that time, various materials had been used to set bones. Ancient societies used wooden or bamboo splints, while rudimentary casts -- bandages hardened with flour and egg, or mixtures of animal fat, flour and egg white -- date from medieval times. Plaster of Paris, or gypsum, was readily adopted because it dried quickly and stayed rigid, reducing the risk that the fracture would become misaligned. (Fibreglass casts, introduced in the 1980s, are considered an improvement because of their lightness and resistance to water.)
Rawhide splints, though, did not go far. Beacock still made a name for himself, however, as a manufacturer of artificial limbs. His partnership with Terence Sparham, a doctor and fellow Brockville, Ontario, resident, lasted into the next century and had a good reputation among Canadian doctors. According to a 1909 newspaper profile, Beacock & Co. "have a trade all through Canada, and the class of the work is recognized by physiciansï¿½ as having no superior in the country."
Thanks to Brenda Foss, research volunteer with the Brockville Museum, for her assistance with this profile.
"Beacock & Co." The Island City: Brockville. Special edition, Recorder and Times. Brockville, Ont: Brockville Board of Trade, 1909.
"Fractures, Treatments and Devices for." World of Invention. Edited by Kimberly A. McGrath. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1999, p. 260.