“Inventing a Better Mousetrap”

Posted by -- April 11, 2012

Last week, I flew down to Washington DC with my husband for a few days of vacationing and visiting some friends.  One of our friends is a volunteer at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and thus we were delighted to have a personal tour of all the best exhibits!  Though I am not a huge fan of museums, my friend was smart enough to bring me to an exhibit called “Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection”.  This was an amazing exhibit of 37 miniature models of various inventions that had been created for the purpose of seeking a patent.  This exhibit is where my vacation brain got put on hold and my love for prosthetics and the history of prosthetics got turned on. 

One of the patent models featured in this exhibit was of a below knee prosthesis with a new and improved knee joint mechanism for a joints and corset style design.  This patent (#29494) was called “artificial Leg” and was from 1860 – created and submitted for patent by Benjamin Jewett of Guilford NH.  This patent model is a great specimen of many prosthetic designs of the past!  The model had wonderful crafted joints and a leather corset design with patella cap.  It was an exoskeletal design made out of wood with a wooden foot.  The foot was really interesting in that it was wood until the ball of the foot, at which point, there was a “joint” of sorts and the toes appeared to be of a softer material, though probably also wood.  I would speculate that the joint in the foot was used to allow for easier roll-over, simulating to our own anatomical proximal toe joints.  I have never seen this style foot in person, though there were several pictures of similar feet in my book from prosthetic school.  I found the patent to this prosthesis’ knee joints online at: Prosthetic knee joint patent.  This is the first time that I have ever actually read a patent.  Its descriptions and design is a really unique piece of American prosthetic history.  You can check out the Smithsonian’s web link to this exhibit at: Smithsonian exhibit. 

I have now returned from my brief vacation, but I can’t stop thinking about how wonderful it was to bump into such an amazing museum exhibit that even someone like me could find truly fascinating.

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