Banner image is a detail from A Treatise on Marks’ Patent Artificial Limbs with Rubber Hands and Feet, published in New York, 1894.
In the late 1850s an enterprising Torontonian named Norris Black began a sideline business offering the city something it was sorely lacking: prosthetics.
Though a great variety of prosthetics had been designed through the ages, the type we’re most familiar with today were still very much in their infancy in the early 19th century. It wasn’t until the American Civil War came along – and an enormous number of men were maimed on the battlefield – that great advances were made in the technology. Prior to that, an individual often had to make do as best they could. If the missing appendage was a foot or leg this would mean the use of a peg, crutch or cane – but one early Torontonian devised something much more remarkable.
In Toronto of Old, Henry Scadding shares the ingenuity of Henry Mosley who was the General Commission Merchant and Auctioneer for the town of York in the 1830s. As Scadding notes, Mosley was a “well-know and excellent man” who’d had the misfortune of suffering such extreme frost-bite that he’d lost the lower portion of both his legs, and so:
“he contrived to move about with great activity in a room or on the side-walk by means of two light chairs, shifting himself adroitly from the one to the other. When required to go to a distance or to church, (where he was ever punctually to be seen in his place), he was lifted by his son or sons into and out of a wagonette, together with the chairs.”
Unfortunately for Mosley, he wouldn’t live to see Norris Black’s creations but I’m certain they helped improve a number of lives in the city – though perhaps not so many that Norris was able to give up his day job as a Singer Sewing Machine agent:
Nonetheless, Black managed to invest a great deal of time in working to improve his artificial limbs. He certainly felt confident enough in his leg design to claim it was better than the product being offered in the American market:
I can’t tell you how many prosthetics Norris Black sold in an average year – it’s certainly not the kind of business you hope was booming – but I’m fairly sure he experienced record numbers in 1866.
In June of that year, the town of Ridgeway, Ontario became the site of a raid by the Fenian Brotherhood – an Irish Republican group based in the U.S. It would be the second of five major raids, the intent of which was to capture and use Canada as a bargaining chip with which to wrestle Irish Independence from the U.K. On this particular occasion, the press in Port Colborne were all over it:
In what would become the largest engagement of the raids, the Battle of Ridgeway would be the only victory for the Fenian Brotherhood. By battle’s end the Fenians would count roughly a half-dozen dead and 16 wounded, while the Canadians would lose nine men and have 37 wounded. It was this latter group, naturally, that would provide Norris Black with a unique opportunity to help many with his products – something he was none to hesitant to mention in his advertising:
But then in 1869, just a few years after this ad, Norris Black disappeared. … and by that I mean I think he died. Luckily for the city, a man named James Authors was waiting in the wings, ready to take his place – literally.
At the outset, James Authors wasn’t the most likely candidate to pick up where Norris Black had left off. At 41 years of age, he’d spent the previous decade eking out a living by selling lamps and coal oil on Yonge St. But he soon proved just as good a limb salesman as Black had been and in a few years even expanded his line to include surgical implements:
Most commonly, the “surgical apparatus” of the day was a truss for containing a “rupture” – or hernia, as we now call it. (Not that you’re asking, but “rupture” in my opinion is a particularly icky term.) Selling these trusses was particularly savvy on Authors’s part because, as far as I can make out, the Torontonians of yore were constantly rupturing themselves. And, what with the simple hernia surgeries we enjoy today being quite a long way off, trussing a hernia up with a fitted contraption was really the only option available.
… now if you’ll pardon me, I’m just going to knock on some wood because I know I’m probably one awkward-lift away from herniating myself… (Knock, shudder, knock ). Okay, let us move on…
Like Norris Black before him, James Authors enjoyed being the sole manufacturer of limbs for some time. But of course, commerce being what it is, it wasn’t long before others arrived on the scene to make a play for a piece of the action. The first was a Montreal-based man who placed this grand advertisement in 1873:
I don’t know how much Toronto business it garnered Gross, but it couldn’t have been much because this was the extent of his advertising campaign and his listing in the city directory was gone a year later.
But a second, much stronger competitor arrived in the form of one William H. Swinbourn in 1880 :
Swinbourn was certainly a worthy competitor but by 1884 he too had disappeared. If this cheered James Authors any, he wouldn’t have long to enjoy it -the same year brought Charles Cluthe to town.
Charles Cluthe was a German born inventor who’d made a name for himself in Berlin by designing a popular truss for ruptures. On the heels of this success, he emigrated to Hamilton, Ontario in the 1870s and built up the foundation of a successful Canadian business. Seven years later he came on to Toronto, ready to break into a larger market.
Charles Cluthe’s line of products soon grew considerably, and before long there was almost no item he couldn’t offer:
Charles Cluthe’s name soon became so well known that he was able to take his show on the road. … Oh the excitement folks must’ve felt when they saw this notice in the paper:
While Cluthe was busy building his empire down the street, James Authors was steadily working on his own.
In 1884, Authors took on a partner named John Cox. Cox was a fairly well established optician who’d had a steady business for some 15 years. Considering that opticians of the day did a good business in artificial eyes, you can imagine that such a partnership would’ve been a good fit. (There’s a joke there somewhere.) Just the same, Authors and Cox ads focused exclusively on the prosthetic limb side of the business:
By 1895, Charles Cluthe began to feel that Toronto – like Berlin and Hamilton before it – was getting to be too small a pond. And so he picked up and moved to New York where he achieved even greater renown, and would soon become the largest truss manufacturer in the world.
With Cluthe’s departure Authors and Cox regained their position as Toronto’s best known dealer in artificial limbs. Even after James Authors’ death in 1909, the Authors and Cox company continued to thrive, providing Toronto hospitals and citizens with much need rehabilitation aids throughout the First World War and well into the 1920s.