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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

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Operation: 1922

Operation: 1922

1922. "Surgery, #13." National Photo Company glass negative. View full size.


Anesthesia Unplugged

As an anesthesiologist, I can't even imagine having such lack of monitors on a patient, let alone using something so volatile and dangerous as ether!

The eyes on the guy on the left

Look at the eyes on the guy on the left side of the picture, notice that they are pointed in different directions.

[Her eyes are pointed in the same direction. - Dave]

Hot lights

I'm guessing that if those overhead lights were on they would heat up that room in a jiffy! They do not appear to be on to me at all. There is no way to aim the lights either I notice. And the anesthesiologist looks way too close to the ether!


I'm voting with Dave on this one, too. 30+ years of shooting professionally and that nice, broad soft light likes indirect window lighting to me, too. Even the highlights on the glassware over in the back of the room have nice long reflections on them unlike the hotspot left by a flashbulb.


I had all sorts of boo boos that were "treated" with Mercurochrome up through the 1960's. My grandparents must have purchased it by the vat. How much time do I have left, Doc?

The anesthesiologist looks like he is pouring rubber cement to seal the guy's lips so his screaming won't scare the other patients.

Natural light

Dave is correct, the light from the left is from a large window and there may be some smaller windows behind the photographer. The light bulbs above aren't even on. I speak as a photographer with 30 years of location and studio experience.

Of course there is an artificial light source

Call it what you like, a flash or a lamp, there is a light on the left that illuminates the scene and overpowers the overhead lamps. Dave doesn't know anymore than anyone else about whether there was flash or not. The evidence is in the photo.

[It's a hydrogen lamp, positioned 93 million miles to the left. - Dave]

No flash?

What's your definitive evidence? Looks like flash to me. What else could cause the light to move from left to right with a higher level on the left. And also overpowering the incandescent lights overhead?

The "thing"

In the forceps is an iodine swab.

Not how my patient would be positioned.

The hands and arms tied with narrow tapes against the hard edge - just asking for nerve damage. The straps holding the knees down.
Well, that still happens, but with padding and something to raise the knees - easier on the low back.

Yeah, looks like he's prepping the sterile (ha!) area with an iodine based antiseptic.

Anesthesiologists were known to succumb to the ether and other gasses. There are stories of the whole surgical team dropping.

(I have been a surgical nurse for over ten years, and love the stories from anesthesiologist of the Time Before Pulse Oximetry.)


So many differences from now. Interesting that the anesthesiologist doesn't wear gloves or a face mask. How does he prevent himself from being affected by the ether fumes? Surgery is frightening enough today, but imagine having no monitors of any kind. The varying shapes of the light shades direct the angle of light from above. Yet I bet the operation turned out well.

Double up on the ether

The restraints aren't a particularly reassuring sign.

Chopped Liver?

This says "staged" all over it. They wouldn't let a flash go off that close to ether, and the patient's abdomen looks a lot like that of a mannequin. The thing in the forceps looks a lot like calves liver from the cafeteria. No clamps to hold the incision open visible, either.

[There was no flash, and there is no incision. That's a sponge in the forceps applying iodine or mercurochrome, Dr. Kildare. - Dave]

THE 100-YEAR-OLD PHOTO BLOG | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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