The Maryland Colloquium on the History of Technology, Science, and Environment (MCHOTSE) is pleased to announce the second session in its 2008-2009 program.

Limb Lab: Technological Experimentation in Prosthetic Design for World War I Amputee Soldiers

Beth Linker University of Pennsylvania Department History and Sociology of Science

Thursday, October 2, 2008.

The Colloquium meets in room TLF (Taliaferro Hall) 2110 at the University of Maryland, College Park. Social hour with refreshments, 4:00-4:30 pm; presentation and discussion of precirculated paper, 4:30-6:00 pm.

Please send requests for the paper to [email protected]


Looking across the Atlantic in the spring of 1917 at the ravages of the Great War, the U.S. Council of National Defense prepared for the worst, envisioning its own country re-“arming” hundreds of thousands of limbless American soldiers. The Council thus ordered the Army Surgeon General’s Office to create a “Limb Laboratory” where orthopedic surgeons would standardize and construct affordable prosthetic arms and legs for returning disabled veterans. The choices that Limb Lab orthopedists made concerning which type of artificial limbs best suited America’s maimed veterans stemmed not only from medical theory and practice, but also from deep-seated political, cultural and economic concerns shared by many other social progressives at the time. Many Americans saw the Civil War pension system as a horrible failure that created a generation of unemployed, emasculated old men who hobbled along city streets with peg legs and canes begging for change. The motivation to furnish amputee soldiers with replacement limbs thus satisfied the wider social vision of the rehabilitation project. Defining masculinity as the ability to earn wages, orthopedists believed that artificial limbs were necessary to make disabled soldiers whole again, bringing them into their rightful place as “industrial citizens.” With this aim in mind, the Limb Lab emphasized the utility of artificial limbs, claiming that amputee men should have “tool-like” appendages rather than anatomical replicas in order to be competitive with able-bodied men on the job market.

Parking Guidance: Taliaferro Hall is up the hill past the Memorial Chapel, off of U.S. Rte. 1 (Baltimore Ave.) in College Park. The University’s web site will provide a map as well as advice on parking

[see:; look for building 043]. Many restricted lots at the university are available to the public after 4:00 pm, but attendees are advised to read all parking lot signs carefully. Lots C and L are the closest unrestricted lots (after 4 pm) to Taliaferro Hall.