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"Improvements on Surgical Trusses." Patent no. 16303, filed by Adam H. Saylor and Edward Parker, 1883


Patent no. 16303. Filing year 1883.

"Improvements on Surgical Trusses," Adam H. Saylor and Edward Parker.

British surgeon Joseph Lister invented antiseptic methods in the 1860s, after he noticed that up to half of all patients died from surgical procedures. At first, his insistence that surgeons wash their hands and instruments with a carbolic acid solution fell on deaf ears, as many doctors believed infection was a spontaneous and inevitable process. However, under Lister's guidance, the mortality rate from operations fell from 50 percent to 15 percent; by the late 1870s, antiseptic methods were common in Europe.

Lister's practices were introduced in Canada in 1877. Before then, as one medical historian puts it, "opening the abdomen meant almost certain death, due to infection." As a result, sufferers of many treatable conditions were unlikely to seek out surgical solutions, opting for alternatives such as Edward Parker's surgical truss, patented in 1883.

Parker's truss was designed to relieve discomfort caused by reducible abdominal hernias. Such hernias occur when an intestine protrudes through a rupture in the abdominal wall; a hernia is reducible when the intestine can be returned to its normal site. The truss, essentially a belt with adjustable pads, was designed to hold the intestine in place. The second pad was provided in the case of a double hernia.

Parker, who did not identify his occupation in his patent application, was likely responding to a local need. Brockville was a thriving industrial city in the 19th century, due to its favourable location on the St. Lawrence River and the Grand Trunk Railway line. Hernias may well have been a common ailment among workers in its heavier industries.

There were many Canadian truss experts among Parker's contemporaries, and dozens of variations on his design are found in the Made in Canada database, including no. 1389, no. 2098, no. 8414, no. 9338 and no. 14417. Regardless of their effectiveness, however, we can be sure that the users of the trusses were relieved when advances in surgery led to more lasting treatments for hernias.


Heagarty, John Joseph. Four Centuries of Medical History in Canada and a Sketch of the Medical History of Newfoundland. Vol. 1. Toronto: Macmillan, 1928.

Briggs, Elizabeth, and Colin J. Briggs. Before Modern Medicine: Diseases and Yesterday's Remedies. Winnipeg: Westgarth, 1998.

"History and Location." Brockville: City of the 1000 Islands.
(accessed October 28, 2005).

"Hernia." Wikipedia.
(accessed October 28, 2005).