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February 1996

William Halsted, His Family, and 'Queer Business Methods'

Author Affiliations

From The Hernia Center, Freehold, NJ, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark.

Arch Surg. 1996;131(2):123-127. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1996.01430140013002

The life and times of William Stewart Halsted have become a blend of fact and sometimes fiction. Lost in this hagiographic haze are certain true aspects of his upbringing, family life, and professional activities. Whether Halsted remains as monumental a figure in the evolution of American surgery as he is presently perceived, remains a matter of historical inquiry. For instance, the important consideration of Halsted's independent wealth and its impact on his ability to accept a "full-time" faculty position at The Johns Hopkins Hospital is a question of interest. Newly available information shows that Halsted's father, William Mills Halsted, Jr, was involved in numerous financial irregularities centered around the family's business, Halsted, Haines & Co. Among the father's alleged misconduct was the apparent embezzlement and fraudulent assignment of company funds. Included in these abuses was, at the time of the firm's bankruptcy, the providing of "preference loans" to William Stewart Halsted, which became the basis for the surgeon's later affluence. (Arch Surg. 1996;131:123-127)