surgeons at work

History of Gloves for Doctors that Changed Everything

Not always fatal innovations and inventions in medicine were first appreciated by public and professional community – and at times even authors. One of such examples – medical gloWilliam Halstedves, nowadays the most important subject of a medical apparel, the barrier to infections protecting at the same time both the patient, and the doctor – one of the major innovations in the field of an asepsis which changed surgery of the 19th century.

It happened about 1890, in the Baltimore hospital of John Hopkins, to be exact – in the operating room of the famous surgeon dr. William Halsted.


The American surgeon Halsted (1852-1922) – one of the most picturesque figures in the history of the American surgery. The pioneer of local anesthesia, the author of a number of techniques of radical intervention at cancer therapy, he is not less known for the peculiar household habits: the exocentric dandy, he, according to stories, not only ordered shirts only in London, but also to erase them sent to England – dismiss, unless it is possible to find a good laundry in Baltimore?

In addition, it had difficult relations with cocaine. In the middle of the 1880th years when poisonous properties of cocaine were not still open, Halsted actively became interested in his opportunities as local anesthetic and not to a lesser extent – as stimulator for himself. Over time Halsted himself fell into dependence on “a white potion” – he had to spend a lot of time on clinics and to go to a long voyage where he unsuccessfully tried to get rid of a habit. But, the most important – it sent to the grave several assistants to whom strongly recommended the miracle cure expanding consciousness and helping the surgeon with work in due time. Everything Halsted managed that with time – to replace cocaine with morphine. However, it returned reputation of the leading surgeon after long narcotic crisis to itself(himself) – though he had to hide addiction to morphine from the management of hospital.

Who Invented Gloves for Doctors?

Medical gloves are obliged by the emergence to rather famous English surgeon William Halsted who in one of winter months at a boundary of 1889-1890 ordered in the Goodyear Rubber company two pairs of rubber gloves for the loved Caroline Hampton working with it as elder sister.

The truth initially these gloves were necessary for carrying out disinfection processing as all used means were rather poisonous.

But the pupil of this surgeon Joseph Bloodgood, went further and is old to make in gloves already operations. Thanks to such innovation, the number of postoperative infections was sharply reduced.

Actually, over time and other surgeons gradually began to use gloves.

And the spread of gloves to all health workers happened at the end of 1910 when latex was invented.

And still – about gloves.

first surgeon gloveOne of the first Halsted gloves, in the 1870th years having got acquainted with front lines at that time the ideas of antiseptics and an asepsis at the operations preached by British Joseph Lister began image, meticulous to pedantry, to treat sterility in the operating rooms. But gloves, strangely enough, were thought up by it not for reasons of asepsis per se but because the disinfecting means of that time – carbolic acid and chloride of mercury, differed in toxicity, and skin of his senior nurse – sensitivity.

“In the winter of 1889-1890 – month I cannot remember – elder sister of my operating room complained that solution of chloride of mercury causes dermatitis in her on hands. And as she was a big professional, I listened and once, being in New York, suggested the Goodyear Rubber company to make as an experiment two pairs of thin rubber gloves with gaiters”.

Though Halsted writes about this episode with laconic dispassionateness, it is worth noticing that already the same year this nurse, Caroline Hampton, married him, they lived together for 32 years, and died less than in a year after the death of the surgeon in 1922.

Carolina Hampton is the nurse and Halsted’s wife and her personality was really unusual: Wade Hampton’s III niece, in the past of the talented commander of army of Confederation, and later on a senator, in nurses she went contrary to the will of the family. And the most important – she, being his assistant in the operating room, knew about Halsted ‘s addiction to morphine, but helped to hold her unknown to trustees of hospital (whether it originally became the reason of special care of the surgeon of her hands?).

The gloves ordered for Ms. Hampton were so convenient that soon other assistants of Halsted began to wear them.

“… We ordered two pairs more – Halsted remembers. – In the fall when I returned to the city, the assistant who gave tools and was engaged in threads and needles, also received gloves. The surgeon first carried them only during the work of diagnostic cuts on joints. Over time, however, assistants so got used to work in gloves that they continued to carry them already being surgeons. Also, it should be noted, appear, that without gloves they work less professionally, than in them”.


The main value of an invention, namely role of gloves as means of protection from infections, remained unnoticed for Halsted until in 1899 his talented pupil Joseph Bloodgood published brilliant results: 450 operations on elimination of hernia performed in gloves did without postoperative infections though until recently their level, despite antiseptic and aseptic measures, left much to be desired.

“How could I be so blind that did not realize that I need to carry them constantly!” – Halsted was distressed later about it.

The first of surgeons, in the general opinion, began to put on in 1896 gloves – the truth, cotton – the good friend of Halsted, Jan Mikulicz-Radecki, the surgeon most famous in due time, the native Austrian those years working in university clinic of Breslau (nowadays Polish Wroclaw). One more invention of Radecki (at the same time it was made, however, by Frenchman Paul Berger) – a medical mask on the person – finally opened a modern era in the history of surgery.

1899. Jan Mikulicz-Radecki before operation
1899. Jan Mikulicz-Radecki before operation


The invention at the end of the 1910th years of artificial latex urged on both development of contraception, and evolution of medical gloves. The benefit from medical gloves and condoms, in fact, was required same – a combination of a subtlety and reliability and also ensuring the maximum sensitivity.

In 1964 the Australian company on production of the rubber and latex products Ansell started production of disposable latex gloves. For Ansell it became hour of triumph: in the seventieth the company opens productions in other countries, and then one behind another absorbs competitors, having become by our time the largest producer of medical gloves in the world.