Technology in Practice: Prosthetics

Prosthetics have become a symbol of hope and repair for hundreds of thousands of people. They allow people who would have otherwise faced dependency for the rest of their lives a chance to return to a normal level of functionality. One of the first functional prosthetics is thought to be the prosthetic big toe in Ancient Egypt (Park). Up until this time, many forms of prosthetics were purely decorative. However, in this case, the big toe has been studied and found to support up to forty percent of a person’s body weight (Park). As prosthesis technology advanced, prosthetics began to be designed to return people with lost abilities. For example, an iron hand was built to allow a knight to return to battle after losing his arm. The first prosthetic to be developed with hinges belonged to Gotz von Berlichingen (Park). If this prosthetic arm had not been designed, Gotz von Berlichingen would have lost his knighthood and would not have been allowed to return to battle. However with the arm, he was able to continue fighting; the hinge at the elbow allowed von Berlichingen to wield a sword while the fingers allowed him to hold on to a shield. Even back then, people saw the need to create some kind of replacement to allow an otherwise healthy person to return to their regular routines.

Before the wonders of modern medicine, amputation was a common cure for a wide variety of ailments. Dr. Charles S. Foltz was a surgeon during the Civil War. He describes the procedures used during that time when he details a surgery performed on a Spanish Sailor who was being operated on to remove a tumor. However, the surgery went poorly and Foltz ended up having to amputate his leg (Foltz 104). This time period showcases huge advancements in engineering on many different levels. During the Civil War, a combination of the use of the Minnie Bullet and gangrene led to a huge increase in the number of amputations being performed (MacRae). Due to the frequency of amputations that occurred during the Civil War and the lack of technology of prosthesis, soldiers began to design their own prosthetics so they could return to a semi-normal life (Park). In fact, the government recognized the need for prosthetics and issued the “Great Civil War Benefaction” that promised prosthetics to all injured veterans. Before the development of a comfortable prosthetic with sensible hinges, most amputees had to suffer through pain and awkward movement.

Edward Hanger was the mastermind behind modern day prosthetics. A confederate soldier and amputee himself, Hanger designed his own prosthetic after becoming frustrated with the peg leg he was issued through the benefaction (MacRae). Before the Civil War, it was common to see amputees limping around on peg legs or wielding a prosthetic hand with a single functionality, a hook, a blade, or a brush. Many real prosthetics resembled the ones common in fairy tales: pirates with peg legs and Captain Hook with his hook hand. But the Civil War marked a turning point in typical prosthesis. After Hanger’s innovative hinged design, the prosthetic industry started booming. His company, Hanger Inc., is still a leading brand in prosthetics today.

Today, advanced neuroscience research meets the prosthesis industry through the integration of brainwaves in the control of prosthetics. BiOM is completely different from most prosthetics on the market, it closely resembles a human leg and is meant to be as mechanically similar to a biological leg as possible (Shaer). Each advancement in technology allows for an increase in comfort and mobility for someone who might otherwise not be self sufficient.

Works Cited

Foltz, Charles S. Surgeon of the Seas-The Life of Surgeon Jonathan M. Foltz. The Bobbs-Merrill

Company, 1931.

MacRae, Michael. “The Civil War and the Birth of the U.S. Prosthetics Industry.” American

Society of Mechanical Engineers, n.d,

bioengineering/the-civil-war-and-birth-of-us-prosthetics-industry. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.

Park, William. “The Geniuses Who Invented Prosthetic Limbs.” British Broadcasting

Corparation, November 2015,

ses-who-invented-prosthetic-limbs. Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.

Shaer, Matthew. “Is This the Future of Robotic Legs?” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2014, Accessed 27 Oct. 2016.

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