Patent no. 45172. Filing year 1894.
"Artificial Leg," Terence Sparham and James Hall.
Surgery prior to the 20th century often meant amputation. It was so common that, as one medical historian notes, "The skill of the surgeon was judged largely by his speed and the amount of blood on his frock coat."
Hence the demand for artificial limbs. Though crudely-fashioned limb replacements had existed for centuries, it was the renowned French surgeon, Ambroise Paré, who developed a more modern approach in the 16th century. Drawing on his experience as a battlefield surgeon, Paré created an artificial leg with a moveable knee joint, a flexible foot operated with a spring, and an artificial hand whose fingers moved with tiny cogs and levers. He also established the practice of leaving a stump when amputating to ensure that an artificial limb could be fitted to the amputee.
The prosthetic leg patented in 1893 by Terence Sparham, a physician in Brockville, Ontario, was sophisticated for its time. (An artificial leg patented ten years earlier in Douglas, New Brunswick, no. 19681, is basic by comparison.) Sparham's limb had pivots at the knee, heel and toe, and the toe was equipped with a hinge and spring to aid movement. The knee joint could also be locked or loosened as desired. The leg was sturdily reinforced and was secured to the body with a specially designed harness. Sparham, with his partner, fellow Brockville entrepreneur and inventor, George Beacock, manufactured artificial limbs that reportedly enjoyed a good reputation in Canada's medical community. Beacock and his sons continued the company following Sparham's death in 1902.
In the 20th century, new materials like plastic and fibreglass made prostheses both lighter and more durable, while new technologies were employed to add movement. The most significant development, the myoelectric prosthesis, uses electrical impulses in the nerves of what remains of the limb to produce movement.
Thanks to Brenda Foss, research volunteer with the Brockville Museum, for her assistance with this profile.
Heagarty, John Joseph. Four Centuries of Medical History in Canada and a Sketch of the Medical History of Newfoundland. Vol. 1. Toronto: Macmillan, 1928.
"Artificial Limb and Joint." World of Invention. Edited by Kimberly A. McGrath. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1999, p. 35.
"Beacock & Co." The Island City: Brockville. Special edition, Recorder and Times. Brockville, Ont: Brockville Board of Trade, 1909.
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