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John Rhea Barton

Born  1794
Died  1871

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American surgeon and orthopaedian, born April 1794, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; died January 1, 1871, Philadelphia.

Biography of John Rhea Barton

John Rhea Barton studied at the Pennsylvania Hospital, graduating (doctorate?) in 1818. Shortly thereafter he began teaching at the Pennsylvania Hospital and became surgeon at the Philadelphia Almshouse. The Philadelphia Almshouse, established in 1729, was the first institution in the American Colonies to provide hospitalized care for the poor.

He worked for Philip Syng Physick (1768-1837), the father of American Surgery, who had been a student of John Hunter (1728-1793) in London. It was said that Barton was ambidextrous and that once he had positioned himself for an operation, he did not move about. From 1823 he was a surgeon at Pennsylvania Hospital.

The daring and skill with which Barton executed his surgical operations, called for the envy and admiration of his colleagues, and was the theme of many anecdotes. The high point of his fame came in 1826, as he in a case of ankylosis executed an osteotomy in the hip in seven minutes. He also examined the possibilities of connecting the broken pieces through etching mediums in cases of unhealed fractures of the bones.

Barton is best known as the originator of the corrective osteotomy for joint ankylosis. He performed a femoral osteotomy between the greater and lesser trochanters to secure motion in an ankylosed hip. This has been called the first successful arthroplasty.

His name is associated with a figure-of-eight bandage that provides support below and anterior to the lower jaw; an obstetrics forceps with one fixed, curved blade and a lunged anterior blade for application to a high transverse position of the head; and a fracture of the lower articular extremity of the radius. In 1826, he performed a subtrochanteric osteotomy of the femur for a severe flexion-adduction deformity of the hip.

Bartonella fever etc is named for the Peruvian physician Alberto L. Barton (1871-1950).


  • Remarks on certain injuries of the bones in children.
    American Medical Recorder, 1821, 4: 9-20. On bending fractures in children.
  • Views and treatment of an important injury of the wrist.
    Medical Examiner, Philadelphia, 1838, 1: 365-368.
  • On the treatment of anchylosis by the formation of artificial joints.
    North American Medical & Surgical Journal, 1827, 3: 279-192.
    Reprinted in Clinical Orthopedics, 1984, 182: 4-13.

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