Photo Essay: The International Museum of Surgical Science

Walking along Oak Street Beach, I braced myself against heavy winds flowing from Lake Michigan, taking in the beauty of ice nestled against the lakeshore. Beyond the rocky barrier I could see Chicago’s skyline, the Navy Pier at a distance, with the Ferris Wheel immobile, possibly frozen and awaiting the summer sun. With a few hours to spare before my flight, I thought a stroll along the coastline would be best amended by a visit to a museum long in my “must-see” history of medicine list: The International Museum of Surgical Science, a division of the International College of Surgeons.

The stunning building that now houses the museum was once the lakeside home for Eleanor Robinson Countiss (1887-1931) and her family. Constructed in 1917 as a wedding gift for Eleanor and modelled after Le Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s palace at Versailles, the building was eventually acquired by surgeon Max Thorek (1880-1960) in 1950. Thorek had founded the International College of Surgeons in 1935 and wanted a place where the public could witness the great surgeons and surgical developments of the past. On September 9, 1954, the Museum opened its doors to the public.

Enjoy this photo essay! Special thanks are owed to Justina Doyle, Manager of Education and Events, who took the time out of her busy day to give me a tour. If you’re ever in Chicago, be sure to check out the museum!


Museum entrance on 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago IL


The Hall of Immortals, the Museum’s first exhibit, statues of the giants in medicine and surgery (including a woman–Marie Curie).



The Library


On the fireplace mantle in the library rests the hands of Dr. Max Thorek.


The Hall of Murals, illustrating some of the greatest moments in surgical history.


Another room of grand paintings depicting moments in medical and surgical history.


Teatro Anatomico: a 1/8th scale model of Padua’s anatomical theatre, constructed in 1594. This is a model of the original that resides in the Main Building of the University of Padua.



The Phelps aluminum jacket, c.1900, an orthopedic vest that was the “lightest, neatest, and most durable jacket” available on the 1899 market. It could even be worn under clothes and the holes allowed skin to “breathe.”


Cabinet of prostheses


A plaster cast of the first fetus delivered under anesthetic by Dr. James Simpson on 18 January 1847.


Patent Medicines Exhibit


A trephining set, manufactured by Josefinischen Sammlung in 1785.


Advertisement for x-ray equipment


A mural commemorating the first caesarian section in Latin America, performed in 1844 in Columbia by Dr. Jose Igancio Quevedo. Artist: Ernique Grau (1920-2004).


A mural commemorating the first ovariotomy performed in Columbia, with a fully anesthetized patient. Artist: Eduardo Ramirez Villamizar (1922-2004)


Various stones, crystals, struvite, etc. Gross.


A Chinese delivery kit. 




Picture from Willem Ten Rhijne’s Dissertatio de arthritide (1683), showing sites of moxa and acupuncture. 



A universal ophthalmometer, c.1911, used to inspect the eyes for astigmatism, a vision disorder caused by an irregularity of the curvature of the cornea.


A painting depicting the agony of amputation in ancient times. Painting, 1953. Artist, Count Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo (1904-1994). 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s