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  History of Neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital - Harvard Medical School
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See also: Neurosurgery Grand Rounds, and view a
a virtual tour of the Ether Dome or go to the new
History at Massachusetts General Hospital web.

This is an illustration of the Bulfinch Building, the first home of the Massachusetts General Hospital, opened in 1821.

[Used with Permission - from an original ink wash and watercolor lithograph by Robert J. Leanna II.]

The operating room of the hospital, now known as the Ether Dome, is visible in the center of the building's top floor.

In this operating theater general anesthesia for surgery was demonstrated to the world's medical community for the first time.

This illustration is from the cover of the Journal of Neurosurgery
(vol 79, 1993) and Dr Barker's publication on
"The Massachusetts General Hospital. Early History
and Neurosurgery to 1939.

History of Massachusetts General Hospital

[MGH Neurosurgical Service]

As you have seen, we use the symbol of the Bulfinch Building as a link to our MGH Neurosurgery main web system and the logo for the MGH Neurosurgical Service.

The East and West Neurosurgical Services are named after the wings of the Bulfinch building. The South Surgical Service also dates to the time of Harvey Cushing's House Pupilship (internship) at MGH.

[Neurosurgery Rounds]

Neurosurgical Grand Rounds at MGH are presented in the Ether Dome Amphitheater located in the dome of the Bulfinch Building each Thursday from 8-9 a.m..

We use Mr Hinkley's painting of the first ether operation (The Ether Operation) as a link to our Neurosugery Grand Rounds.


Department of Neurological Surgery,
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania.

"... The early history of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is reviewed with emphasis on the development of neurological surgery. The hospital opened in 1823 [sic - acutal1821]. Early trephinations were performed by Dr. John Collins Warren and others for treatment of trauma and epilepsy. In the 1880's, interest in brain surgery increased, and Dr. John Elliot performed several trephinations for brain tumors, three of which were witnessed by Dr. Harvey Cushing during his years at the MGH as medical student and intern. In 1911, all brain surgery was placed in the hands of Dr. S. J. Mixter. He later shared the assignment with his son, Dr. W. J. Mixter, who described herniation of the intervertebral disc with Dr. J. S. Barr and became the first Chief of the Neurosurgical Service at MGH in 1939. ..."

[ Abstract - Neurosurg 1993 Dec;79(6):948-959 ]
[ PDF copy of the Article from The Journal of Neurosurgery ]


The Massachusetts General Hospital. The Sequel.
by Dr Nicholas T. Zervas, M.D.

Department of Neurosurgery, Massachusetts General Hospital,
Boston Massachusetts

Since the 1930's, the residents and fellows....

[ PDF copy of the Article from The Journal of Neurosurgery ]


Dr Barkers publication above is a companion and
update to the publication below:

Neurosurgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital - 1909 to 1983 - A Short History and Alumni Record. Edited by Dr Nicholas T. Zervas, M.D. and the Neurosurgical Staff (First Edition copyright 1984).

Excerpts of the booklet are found below. and chapters of the book are available are at: Neurosurgery History 1909-1983.


Outline of the history of neurosurgery at MGH

Two major branches of American neurosurgery could be said to have passed from Victor Horsley via John W. Eliot at M.G.H.. The first was Harvey Cushing and the American school of neurosurgery for intracranial tumors. The second passed to Samuel J. Mixter and his son William Jason Mixter and concentrated on functional and spinal neurosurgery:


Harvey Cushing (far left) in 1895 during his House Pupilship (internship) at Massachusetts General Hospital.

  • Harvey Cushing spends his year (1895-6) as a House Pupil at M.G.H. where he participates in a number of neurosurgical cases with Elliot. He also introduces the monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate during anesthesia (Ether Charts).

Samuel J. Mixter, MD

  • Special Assignment in the Surgery of the Central Nervous System, 1911-1917
  • The first successful surgical stabilization of atlantoaxial (C1-C2) instability (Mixter and Osgood Ann Surg 51:193-207, 1910).

William Jason Mixter, MD

  • Takes over the Special Assignment in 1917 and is appointed first Chief of the MGH Neurosurgical Service, 1933-1946.
  • A founder of minimally invasive neurosurgery, Dr. Mixter was the first to successfully treat hydrocephalus with endoscopic third ventriculostomy. (Boston Med. Surg. J. 188:277-8, 1923)
  • Publishes seminal paper on the discovery of herniated intervertebral disks as a cause of pathology in 1933.

James Clarke White, MD

  • Chief of the Neurosurgical Service 1941-1961 (W.J. Mixter served as acting chief from 1941 to 1946 while Dr. White served in the Navy.) Contributions to the neurosurgical treatment of pain and spine neurosurgery.
  • First (with Drs Lougheed and Sweet) to use hypothermia for neuroprotection during surgery. (J. Neurosurg 12:240-255, 1955)

William H. Sweet, MD, D.Sc.

  • Chief of the Neurosurgical Service 1961-1977.
  • Co-inventor (with MGH's Gordon Brownell) of positron emission tomography (PET Scanning, Nucleonics 11:40-45, 1953)
  • Originator and major proponent of Boron Neutron Capture Therapy for brain tumors (J. Neurosurg 9: 200-209, 1952)
  • Developed the most frequently used procedure for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia (radiofrequency lesioning of the trigeminal ganglion. J Neurosurg 40:143-156, 1974).
  • Performed one of the first successful carotid bifurcation reconstructions (with Drs. Hamlin and Lougheed) on June 11, 1953 (J Neurosurg 15:427-437).

Nicholas T. Zervas, MD

  • Chief of the Neurosurgical Service 1977-2000.

Robert L. Martuza, M.D.

  • Chief of the Neurosurgical Service 2000-2017.

Bob Carter, M.D., Ph.D.

  • Chief of the Neurosurgical Service 2017 -.
Other selected MGH and MGH-neurosurgical-service alumni contributions to Neurosurgery
  • The identification by C. Miller Fisher (of the MGH Neurology Service) that carotid bifurcation occlusive disease is the major preventable cause of stroke and transient ischemic attack. (Arch Neurol Psychiat 65:346-377, 1951 and Arch Neurol Psychiat 72:187-204, 1954).
  • A history of radiosurgery with emphasis on early introduction of particle beams at MGH
  • The introduction of the operating microscope into neurosurgery (while at U Vermont): R. M. Peardon Donaghy , MD, D.Sc., F.A.C.S.
  • Hakim's Disease : Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
  • Introduction of osmotic diruetics for reduction of intracranial pressure: Manucher Javid (while at U Wisconsin), Surg Clin North Am pp.907-028, 1958.
  • Discovery of the anticonvulsant properties of diphenylhydantoin . Tracy Putnam (while at Boston City Hospital) and H. Houston Merritt, Science 85:525-526, 1937.
  • Introduction of endovascular surgery for arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and aneurysms: Alfred J. Luessenhop (while at Georgetown University) and A. C. Velasquez J. Neurosurg 21:85-91, 1964.
For more information see:
  • The Massachusetts General Hospital: Early History and Neurosurgery to 1939 by Fred G. Barker II from Journal of Neurosurgery 79: 948-958, 1993. Copyright American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
  • The Massachusetts General Hospital: The Sequel by Nicholas T. Zervas , MD from Journal of Neurosurgery 79:959-959, 1993. Copyright American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
  • Neurosurgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital 1909-1983: A short History and Alumni Record, edited by Nicholas T. Zervas and the Neurosurgical Staff, Copyright Massachusetts General Hospital, 1984.
  • A History of Radiosurgery
  • The MGH Neurosurgery Residents, Neurosurgery Fellows, and Neurosurgery Alumni Homepages.
Other Online medical history resources
Outline History Other contributions Neurosurgery Alumni Neurosurgery Homepage Links
We have conquered pain: A Celebration of Ether 1846-1996
  • MGH / Harvard Neurosurgical Service
  • Brain Tumor Center at MGH
  • Research @ MGH Neurosurgery
  • MGH Neurosurgery Alumni
  • Brain Tumor Research Center
  • History of Neurosurgery at MGH
  • Neurosurgery Grand Rounds
    Neurosurgical Service
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