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American medicine in the gilded age: The first technological era

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American industrial society in the nineteenth century required special diagnostic techniques to assist in hiring physically qualified and dependable workers. The physician responded by employing diagnostic instruments to improve his diagnostic skills and meet the specific demands of business and industry, and as a consequence, the physician achieved a position as a salaried examiner and an effective medical practitioner. This was especially important in an age when the ‘regular' physician competed for patients with a variety of other healers. The instrument manufacturer aided the industrialization of medicine by producing devices which enabled the physician to treat patients with a greater variety of implements. In using more hardware to diagnose and heal, the reputation of American medicine changed to one of a progressive and effective profession. ‘Mainstream' American medicine became another form of technology in a society which revered technology and subsequently attracted international esteem. However, this scenario is not novel. Investigation of the social and economic forces that had an equal, if not greater, impact on the mechanization of medicine has largely been ignored. This paper introduces some of the social and economic issues that led to the adoption and reliance on medical technology by the American medical community.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 20560, U.S.A.

Publication date: March 1, 1990

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