An engraving of the Gemrig and Son surgical box is found on page 38 of Roberts Bartholow's A Manual of Hypodermatic Medication: The Treatment of Diseases By the Hypodermatic Or Subcutaneous Method.1 The box illustrates positioning of instruments as proposed by Dr. J. W. White.
James White, the youngest son of William Rose and Mary Stockton White, was born on September 29, 1826 in Hulmeville, Pennsylvania. When he was fifteen he followed in the footsteps of a late uncle and older brother to learn the "art and mystery of the manufacture of incorruptible teeth."2
According to an 1838 manual written on the subject, incorruptible teeth were made of feldspar, quartz, and kayolin. The coloring agents were "titanium, cobalt" oxide of gold and etc." The ingredients are "pulverized" and mixed with water to form a clay from which the teeth are fashioned. Once the shapes have been formed, the material is baked (or melted) and voila' ...the incorruptible tooth.3
White's take on the entire process is actually slightly more humorous, because he described himself as "the entire working force of the establishment." White continued to explain how he, "ground the crude materials in a hand mortar, compounded them, and carried through all the processes to the finished product, --such as they were,--then turned traveling salesman, and exchanged them for currency."4
After his brother's death, White ventured ahead and founded the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company in 1881. Its "paid in capital" foundation was one million dollars. Unsurprisingly, White was voted in as president of the company. He lectured, wrote, served as editor of the Dental Cosmos (where much of this information was found) and was instrumental in charitable work. Due to his efforts he received global recognition which is undoubtedly the reason Bartholow featured an engraving showing White's suggested surgical box.
White commissioned the box from Jacob H. Gemrig (died circa 1900)5 who was a surgical instrument maker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, active from 1841 to after 1880. He worked with various family members at several addresses throughout Philadelphia, the last being 109 S. 8th Street. During the Civil War, Gemrig contracted with the Union to supply its army with surgical instruments.6
White was consistently voted in as president of the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company every year until his death in May 27, 1891. In the words of those who knew him best (including one of his sons):
He had the indescribable quality sometimes called personal magnetism, which attracted people to him; genial humor which charms them, and a sterling worth which bound them to his side. As an entertaining conversationalist he had few equals. Besides his wide grasp of real knowledge, he possessed a fund of anecdote that was inexhaustible. Every incident reminded him of a story, in the telling of which he was inimitable.
1. A Manual of Hypodermatic Medication: the treatment of Diseases by the Hypodermatic or Subcutaneous Method. Roberts Bartholow. J. B. Lippincott Company. Philadelphia 1891. p. 38
2. The Dental Cosmos, Volume 33, J.D. White, John Hugh McQuillen, George Jacob Ziegler, James William White, Edward Cameron Kirk, Lovick Pierce Anthony, S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company, 1891, page 506
3. Observations on the Structure, Physiology, Anatomy and Diseases of the Teeth: In Two Parts: Part First, Harvey Burdell, John Burdell. Gould and Newman, 1838. pp 34-35
4. Cosmos, 507
5. American Surgical Instruments: The History of Their Manufacture and a Directory of Instrument Makers to 1900. Edmonson, James M. Norman Publishing 1 January 1997, p. 46
6. You can view photos of surgical boxes Gemrig made on American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques a website moderated by Dr. Michael Echols and Dr. Doug Abittier.
copyrighted by Pat Earnest. Delaware, 2015.
Pat Earnest is a history enthusiast, who has great regard for the past and is especially proud of the Pennsylvania German culture. In addition to Passed Time, I am currently working on a project for the German Historical Institutes Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies (http://www.ghi-dc.org). I also contribute to various newsletters and am working on another book...or two. Feel free to email me at email@example.com with questions, comments, information, a shared love of history, an idea, because you want to chat or you have an great idea for PT. Please be aware, Files With Attachments will not be opened, but immediately deleted.