Health Care Professionals

Prosthetics through the Ages: From Myth to Practice


Civil War Legacy

The Civil War left close to 35,000 amputees needing artificial limbs. Public funds were used to purchase prostheses for these veterans. Entrepreneurs, including wounded veterans, developed improved limbs that enabled amputees to live more normal lives. One of these men was James Edward Hanger, whose amputation was the first recorded of the Civil War. He was an 18-year-old engineering student, and while recovering from surgery, he worked to improve the replacement leg given to him by the Army. Though his original patent was lost, Hanger was able to start a business providing prosthetics for wounded veterans. Hanger is still a world leader in prosthetics today, with offices in the United States and Europe.

The Bionic Age

Just over a year ago, the City of Boston was rocked by the detonation of two improvised explosive devices that were planted at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people died. More than 260 were injured—at least 16 with traumatic amputations. From this tragedy, the field of prosthetics created one of the most advanced artificial limbs ever. It is called the Haslet-Davis leg, named for Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a ballroom dance teacher who lost her left leg in the bombing. The leg is built with microprocessors and “smart” materials that duplicate human movement; now Haslet-Davis can dance the rumba again. Her words sum up the magic of modern prosthetics: “I’m not suffering. I’m thriving.”


References and Resources

Ancient Fake Toes May Be World’s Oldest Prostheses:

Boston Bombing Survivors Spur Advances in Prosthetics:

A Brief History of Prosthetics:

My Journey to Dance Again:  CNN Report on Adrianne Haslet-Davis:




War and Prosthetics:  How Veterans Fought for the Perfect Artificial Limb:

- Patty Boyd, IPFH

Page 2 of 2 | 1 2

Was this helpful?