- A dictionary of medical eponyms

John Benjamin Murphy

Born  1857
Died  1916

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American surgeon, born December 21, 1857, Appleton, Wisconsin; died August 11. august 1916, Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Biography of John Benjamin Murphy

The US surgeon John Benjamin Murphy introduced and popularised early removal of the appendix in all cases of suspected appendicitis.

Murphy attended the Rush Medical College where he received his doctorate in 1879. He was a protégé of Christian Finger and interned in Cook County Hospital. From 1882, after a brief period in practice, he spent two years in Vienna for further education - working with Theodor Billroth (1829-1894), and afterwards visited Berlin and Heidelberg.

After this educational journey, Murphy devoted his efforts entirely to surgery. From 1884 he taught surgery as a lecturer at Rush Medical College, and in 1892 became professor of surgery at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago. From 1901 to 1905 he was at the Northwestern University Medical School, 1905-1908 at Rush Medical College, and 1908-1916 again at Northwestern University Medical School. At the same time he also taught at the Graduate Medical School of Chicago, and from 1895 until his death in 1916 was surgeon-in-chief at the Mercy Hospital.

In 1889 Murphy established a pattern of early symptoms for appendicitis and strongly urged immediate removal of the appendix when this pattern appeared. Although Murphy’s program first met with incredulity and derision from his colleagues, his more than 200 successful appendectomies over the next several years provided ample evidence to make the operation common medical practice.

Murphy did much pioneering work on intestinal anastomosis including anastomosis of the gall bladder to the intestine. In 1896 he was the first person to successfully unite a femoral artery severed by a gunshot wound. He had previously undertaken much experimentation on end-to-end resections of arteries and veins. In his technique he invaginated the intima outside the adventitia of the vessel. This resulted in a narrowing of the lumen and of 13 cases only 4 were successful.

Murphy was first in the U.S. to induce (1898) artificial immobilization and collapse of the lung in treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis. He was a pioneer in the use of bone grafting and made contributions to the understanding and management of ankylosis as well as independently proposing artificial pneumothorax to manage unilateral lung disease in tuberculosis.

Murphy was a tall man with a parted red beard and flamboyant character

    «It is the purpose of every man’s life to do something worthy of the recognition and appreciation of his fellow men. . . . By their superior intellectual qualifications, their fidelity to purpose and above all their indefatigable labour the few become leaders.»
    The Journal of the American Medical Association, Chicago, 1911, 57: 1.


  • Resection of arteries and veins injured in continuity – end to end suture – experimental and clinical research.
    Med rec (N.Y.), 1897, 51: 73-88.
  • General Surgery. Chicago, 1911.
  • Robert L. Schmitz, Tomothy T. Oh, editors:
    The Remarkable Surgical Practice of John Benjamin Murphy.
    University of Illinois Press, 1993.

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