From wooden barrel staves to bionics…150 years of rehabilitative innovation
It all started with a cannonball. 18-year-old James Edward Hanger never saw it coming during the early hours of June 3, 1861 as he stood guard in Philippi, Virginia just before the first land battle of the American Civil War. He didn’t know it then, but this devastating injury and excruciating leg amputation would be the start of a grand legacy of revolutionary healthcare innovations.
Many know of the iconic inventions that came out of the Civil War, including the telegraph, the first aerial reconnaissance in the form of hot air balloons, long-range weaponry, and iron clad ships, but it’s a lesser known medical advancement that paved the way for the restoration of mobility to millions – the first articulating prosthetic knee joint.
The most common surgery during the Civil War surgery was amputation. Three out of four wounds were to the extremities, leading to 30,000+ new amputees. The need for a comfortable, life-like, high functioning prosthetic leg was as critical then as it is today. Fortunately, the young Hanger was an aspiring engineer who understood the challenges of losing a limb and had the desire to find a new solution.
Today, there are approximately 1.7 million people living with limb loss in the United States. Additionally, other debilitating diseases such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, cerebral palsy, and paraplegia, as well as congenital anomalies, orthopedic injuries, and other causes have led to over 50 million Americans living with a physical disability.
150 years ago, Hanger Orthopedic Group was founded by the first amputee of the Civil War as a local company specializing in prosthetic devices. Over the years, it has successfully grown into a thriving national organization with 4300+ employees who collectively help those with many different types of physical challenges overcome obstacles and lead productive, independent lives.