February 1997


Arch Surg. 1997;132(2):213. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1997.01430260111026

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In 1872, Addinell Hewson(1828-1889), surgeon to the Pennsylvania Hospital, authored one of the most intriguing, yet bizarre, 19th century American treatises on surgery, Earth as a Topical Application in Surgery. In an era when the spurious notion that suppuration in a wound favored healing, as expressed by the term "laudable pus," Hewson's earth dressings resulted in a faster restoration and less painful incisions. It must be assumed that the earth that Hewson utilized contained a type of mold that had an antibiotic effect. If more inquisitive and less disdainful minds paid attention to Hewson's findings ("it would seem, the results are not dependent purely on the physical properties of the earth, as are they from a chemical influence which it can exert"), then the development of antibiotics might have occurred earlier. Hewson's monograph is also significant because it was among the earliest American medical texts to have photomechanical prints, in

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