The American Red Cross artificial limb factory and shoe distributing station at Jassy, Romania. Some veterans are standing outside waiting to be examined by the American artificial leg expert, 1919. Public Domain /

By Tom Dare

FASCINATING IMAGES from over a century ago showing some of the early advances made in the production of artificial limbs have remerged today, giving a rare insight into the solutions available to war veterans in the early 20th century.

Images from the collection show workers from the American Red Cross artificial limb factory working hard to manufacture an unprecedented number of prosthetics for World War One veterans, thousands of whom lost arms or legs in the horrors of the First World War.

Two men work on covering an artificial limb to make it more life like, 1918. Public Domain /


Further pictures show amputees with and without their artificial limbs as they attempt to come to terms with their new lives, while others show some of the custom-made attachments that were created for amputees so that they could return to work despite their disabilities.

Finished and semi-finished artificial limbs in Paris, 1919. Public Domain /

The First World War was one of the first examples of artificial limbs being mass-produced in order to cope with demand, though some of the biggest advances in the technology came in response to the atrocities of the American Civil War.

Louis Blin, a man with artificial legs who served as a monitor at French school for the disabled, 1918. Public Domain /


The relatively small prosthetics industry struggled to cope with the demand for artificial limbs following the war, with the bitterly divisive conflict leaving literally thousands of amputees by the time it had concluded in 1865.

James Hanger, the man who invented and patented the ‘Hanger Limb’, poses with his prosthetic in 1902. Public Domain /


Not only did the industry struggle to cope with the quantity of limbs required, but many amputees found that the prosthetics on offer were not sufficient in terms of functionality. As such many men took to designing their own prosthetics, in an attempt to meet their own personal requirements.

American workmen make new limbs for British Tommies at the Roehampton hospital and workshops. The Artificial limb expert, J.A. Swaine (right) of shows the British soldier the new leg which he has just completed for him. One of his assistants, on the left, demonstrates with his own artificial leg, 1918. Public Domain /


One of these men was James Hanger, one of the first amputees of the war, who patented the ‘Hanger Limb’, something which gave the wearer more functionality than an ordinary prosthetic. Samuel Decker was another one to design his own prosthetic, adding attachments to the tip which allowed him to carry out several tasks without the need for assistance.

Men at work [making artificial legs] in the J.E. Hangar shop, a manufacturer of artificial limbs in Washington, D.C. 1916. Public Domain /

Despite these advances toward the end of the 19th century, though, there was relatively little progress made between the end of the American Civil War and the First World War. It was only shortly before the war that DW Dorrance invented the split hook hand, a device which became hugely popular with amputee labourers returning from the Western Front after WW1. The prosthetics’ attachment gave the use the ability to grip and manipulate objects, something which the majority of earlier artificial limbs had been unable to do.