Bridge on Orthopaedics

21 September 2008

A little bit of history

Posted by thebridge under: Uncategorized .

I don’t think that there’s an orthopedic surgeon around that hasn’t heard of DePuy, part of the Johnson & Johnson group and world leader in orthopedic solutions. What most people don’t know is that it all started with DePuy, in that they’re the oldest orthopedic company around. And even fewer people know that DePuy all started with just one man, Revra DePuy.

Revra DePuy

Revra DePuy was born in 1860 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  His family moved to Canada shortly after his birth and later returned to the U.S. when his father died, settling in Illinois.  According to the DePuy family thread on Rootsweb, the family saw some hard times during this period.  Revra DePuy worked as a clerk in a drug store (as did Robert Wood Johnson the first) and the work interested him enough to cause him to take a course in chemistry at the University of Toronto in Canada, where he got his degree.  After graduation, DePuy got a job as a traveling salesman.

According to the Warsaw Daily Times of October 10, 1921, referenced here, Revra DePuy was also a chemist during his early career, and is credited with inventing the formula for sugar coating pills.

In the late 1800s, splints for broken limbs were distinctly unscientific, and were made out of barrel staves or other similar makeshift materials.  DePuy saw that there was a huge need for something better to help heal broken limbs, and he got the idea to start a business to produce specifically-designed splints that could be customized to fit patients, rather than the improvised splints that were commonly used.  DePuy decided to open his business in Warsaw, Indiana (where its headquarters remains today) after visiting the town as part of his job as a traveling salesman.

The Hotel Hays, Headquarters of Revra DePuy’s New Company from 1895-1901

Revra DePuy settled in, married the daughter of the local sheriff, and started building his new business.  The first DePuy plant was at the corner of Columbia and Center streets in Warsaw, and the company made specially constructed splints using fiber and wire.  Revra DePuy’s company, then called DePuy Manufacturing, was the first commercial orthopaedics manufacturer in the world.  [Update: DePuy Manufacturing, later DePuy, Inc., was founded in 1895.]

Interestingly enough, in 1905 DePuy hired a man named Justin Zimmer as his first sales representative.  Six years after Revra DePuy died, in 1927, Zimmer left the company now run by DePuy’s widow to start his own orthopaedics company.

Revra DePuy died in 1921.  The business he started revolutionized the way orthopaedic injuries and conditions were treated.  Not only did DePuy, Inc. manufacture the first state-of-the-art splints in the 19th century, the company almost 100 years later pioneered the first hip and knee joint replacement implants.

A thread on Rootsweb quotes an unattributed obituary for Revra DePuy, which gives a small sense of what DePuy was like as a person:

“Revra Depuy, who has manufactured wire splints for 25 years, was one of Warsaw’s substantial businessmen and his advice was frequently sought in a business way. He was a well-educated, self-made man and had a knowledge of nearly every subject far beyond the average.  He was generous and courteous and had many warm personal friends among those who knew him well.”

Here’s another interesting bit of information about DePuy, Inc.:  in the 1950s, long before female chief executives were common, DePuy had a female president, Mrs. Amrette Hoopes.  Here’s an article about her, with pictures.

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