Duke's Surgical Instrument Shop

The Duke Surgical Instrument Shop, circa 1949

Chances are that you’ve never heard of the Surgical Instrument Shop, although it played an important part in Duke's research and innovation.

In the early days of Duke Hospital, research equipment was not as readily available on the market as it is today, and individuals involved in special research often had to create their own devices. Recognizing the need for a unit that could fabricate surgical and medical instruments on campus, Dr. J. Deryl Hart, the then Chair of the Department of Surgery, pioneered the Surgical Instrument Shop, which opened in 1949.

Intercom article about the Surgical Instrument Shop Staff, 1955

The Shop worked closely with doctors to create devices based on their ideas and needs. A 1955 article in the Intercom (shown left) estimated that since opening only a six years before, the Shop had made approximately 10,000 items for the Departments of Surgery and Medicine, including a device to determine the amount of oxygen in the blood stream, an adjustable operating table, and a suture ring that allowed a doctor to carry suture on his finger for easy use. Dr. Hart, who had long been interested in invention, collaborated with the shop’s staff on multiple innovations. In the photo below, Hart holds a wash basin used in the Duke Hospital operating rooms that the Shop built based on his specifications. The basin featured a trip latch that attached it to a tripod stand that had its own heating unit. It was a great improvement over its predecessor, which had no means of maintaining a constant water temperature.

Dr. J. Deryl Hart, circa 1966

The Surgical Instrument Shop was so successful that within the first few years more space and staff needed to be added. In 1997, it was transferred from the Department of Surgery to the Department of Engineering and Maintenance Operations, and later renamed the Medical Center Instrument Shop, as it is known today.

The Archives has several materials related to the Surgical Instrument Shop, including an oral history with George Newton, the Shop's first manager, news clippings and articles about the unit, and images of devices it produced, some of which are available on MEDSpace, our digital image database. To learn more about Hart, visit the J. Deryl Hart Papers and Records finding aid on our website.