Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rubber Limbs and the USS Oneida

Running a blog that thrives on old periodicals means constantly pouring through moldering magazines and newspapers in search of the odd and intriguing. In the six or so years I've been publishing my missives on the past I've seen hundreds of ads for cars, trains, ships, planes, canned goods, candy, and vacations around the world, but this week I stumbled across a first: an ad touting artificial limbs. 

A. A. Marks wasn't the first company to manufacture artificial limbs. The earliest example comes from Capua, Italy where a bronze, iron, and wood leg dating back to 300 BC was unearthed during an 1858 excavation. Through history the art of replacing lost limbs ebbed and advanced, often in step with the history of human conflict. In the early 14th century a German mercenary invented the first hand with movable joints. Through the 17th and 19th centuries advances in articulation continued and with the scourge of amputations that attended the American Civil War, companies like A. A. Marks continued to push the prosthetic envelope.

The ad comes from the April 1893 edition of Railway Carmen's Journal and features a stalwart looking gentleman in US Navy uniform wearing a cap that bears the name of the U.S.S Oneida. The Oneida met its fate twenty-three years prior to the running of Marks' ad and she saw action in the Civil War, either of which would explain the gentleman's advanced age. It's hard to be certain, but a further look through the magazine revealed I'd apparently just been ignorant of just how many ads for prosthetic limbs were running at the time. It's hard to know if the reason owes to the dangerous nature of the railroad industry at the turn of the last century or if it's a testament to the number of men who would have been in the market to upgrade the prosthesis they'd been living with since the war.

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