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History of Plastic Surgery

Surgery from 1900 – 2000

1901: Discovery of the main blood types A, B, AB and 0 by Karl Landsteiner (1868 – 1943) an Austrian doctor, biologist and immunologist. His findings led to the first successful blood transfer in New York in 1907. In 1923 he discovered the rhesus factor, allowing blood to be transfused safely.1

1906: First description of the Lattisimus Dorsi flap (musculocutaneous flap) for post-mastectomy breast reconstruction, by Iginio Tansini (1855 – ?). Italian surgeon, born in Milan. 2. The flap enables reconstruction of the breast without scaring in the axilla, compared to local transposition flaps.

1894: First published paper on radical mastectomy by William Stewart Halsted (1852 – 1922), American surgeon, New York. Published a series of 50 operated patients.3

1917: One of the first documented plastic surgery procedures of modern times. A sailor from “the battle of Jutland” receives a flap to cover skin trauma in the peri-orbital region.4 Surgery is performed by Harold Gillies (1882 – 1960), originally an otolaryngologist from New Zealand.

Harold Gillies is considered the father of plastic surgery, operating several wounded English soldiers through World War I. Gillies continued his practice through World War II as a consultant to the ministry of health. His last operation was the 3rd of August 1960, at the age of 78 where he suffered a minor stroke. He died shortly thereafter, 10th of September 1960.5

1914-1918 + 1939-1945: World War I and II lead to experimentation of alloplastic implants using metals like gold, silver, stainless steel and aluminium.6

1921: First microsurgery procedure by Carl-Olof Siggesson Nylén (1892 – 1979). Swedish otorhinolaryngist, who operated a patient with chronic otitis media using a monocular microscope. Nylén also competed in Tennis at the Summer Olympics.7

1931: One of the first patients, Lili Elbe, former Einar Wegener (1882 – 13 Sept 1931) receives sex reassignment surgery from male to female. Performed in Berlin. Dies from the complications of the later uterus transplantation.8

1936: Founding of the first European society for Plastic Surgery – Société Européenne de Chirurgie Structive. Founded by Belgian Maurice Coelst (1894-1963). Held yearly meetings. The first meeting in Brussels, second (1937) in London by Kilner and the third (1938) in Milano by Sanvenero Rosselli.9

1940: Penicillin is isolated, mass-produced and used against infections during WWII. Penicillin was already discovered by Alexander Fleming (1881 – 1955) by accident in 1928, during an experiment with staphylococcus, where an uncovered petri dish next to the window was contaminated with mold spores.10

1946: Harold Gillies performs sex reassignment surgery from female to male.11

1956: The subspecialty of Plastic Surgery is recognized in Denmark.12

1963: First liver transplant, performed by Thomas Starzl (1926 – 2017). American physician and expert in organ transplants. 13

1964: The Danish Society in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is formed by the Danish consultants Grete Olsen, Michael Pers and Henrik Poulsen.12

1965: Use of titanium as alloplast in cranial and facial bone reconstruction by Simpson. The titanium has high strength, may be bent, has inertness and relative radiolucency.14

1967: First successful heart transplant by Christian Barnard (1922 – 2001). South African thoracic surgeon. Performed at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town.15

1967: Founding of ASAPS – American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.16 The Society publishes official articles in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.17

1969: First successful microvascular transplant of the omentum to fill a large skull defect. By Doctor Donald McLean and Dr. Buncke, at Oak Knoll.18

1970: Founding of ISAPS – International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Draft of constitution in Sao Paolo in 1969. Finally founded in 1970 in the headquarters of the United Nations, New York, to reaffirm the international collaboration.19

1970: Development of blunt wet (cannula-assisted) Liposuction by Yves Gerard Illouz (1929 – 2015). The tumescent technique which is still used today involves the infiltration of saline and adrenaline to avoid bleeding. 20

1980: Grafting of autologous fat for reconstruction of the breast.21

1984, May: The Danish Microsurgical Society is founded.22

1985: First laparoscopic cholecystectomy by surgeon Phillipe Mouret, in France.23, 24

1989: Merging of all European Plastic Surgery Societies to form EURAPS – European Association of Plastic Surgeons.9

1989: First published refractive eye laser surgery (corneal surgery) with ablative excimer laser, by Marguerite McDonald.25

1997: Cloning of the lamb ”Dolly” from stem cells at the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.26

1998: First successful hand transplant by French Plastic surgeon Jean-Michel Dubernard (1941 – ) and Australian Microsurgeon and Professor Earl Owen. 27


  1. Rous P. “karl landsteiner. 1868-1943”. obituary notices of fellows of the royal society. 5 (15): 294–324. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1947.0002. 1947.
  2. Ribuffo D, Cigna E, Gerald G L, Houseman N, Seneviratne S, Scuderi N, et al. Iginio tansini revisited 2015:2477–81.
  3. Halsted William S. “the results of operations for the cure of cancer of the breast performed at the johns hopkins hospital from june, 1889, to january, 1894”. annals of surgery. 20 (5): 497–555. issn 0003-4932. pmc 1493925 freely n.d. Doi: 10.1097/00000658-189407000-00075.
  4. “walter ernest o’neil yeo – one of the first people to undergo plastic surgery”. the yeo society. 28 august 2008. n.d.
  5. Meikle Murray C. Reconstructing faces: the art and wartime surgery of gillies, pickerill, mcindoe and mowlem (hardback). dunedin: otago university press. isbn 978-1-877578-39-7. 2013.
  6. Sonntag R., Kretzner JP. “materials for total joint arthroplasty: biotribology of potential bearings.” n.d.
  7. Carl-olof siggesson nylén. https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/ny/carl-olof-nylen-1.html n.d.
  8. “lili elbe (einar wegener) 1882–1931”.  http://www.danmarkshistorien.dk (in danish). n.d.
  9. Mazzola Riccardo F, Kon Moshe. Euraps at 20 years. a brief history of european plastic surgery from the societe europeenne de chirurgie structive to the european association of plastic surgeons (euraps). J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg 2010;63(6):888–95. Doi: 10.1016/j.bjps.2009.10.005.
  10. Tan Siang Yong, Tatsumura Yvonne. Alexander fleming (1881–1955): discoverer of penicillin 2015;56(7):366–7. Doi: 10.11622/smedj.2015105.
  11. Roach Mary. “girls will be boys”. new york times. 2007.
  12. About the danish society of plastic and reconstructive surgery n.d.
  13. Starzl, thomas. the puzzle people: memoirs of a transplant surgeon. pittsburgh: university of pittsburgh press. 1992.
  14. SIMPSON D. Titanium in cranioplasty. J Neurosurg 1965;22:292–3. Doi: 10.3171/jns.1965.22.3.0292.
  15. Barnard CN. “a human cardiac transplant: an interim report of a successful operation performed at groote schuur hospital, cape town”. 1967:41(48): 1271–74.
  16. Asaps – american society of aesthetic plastic surgery. https://www.surgery.org/media/about n.d.
  17. Aesthetic surgery journal.  https://academic.oup.com/asj/pages/about n.d.
  18. History of the buncke clinic. microsurgeon.org.  https://www.microsurgeon.org/history n.d.
  19. Isaps history. https://www.isaps.org/medical-professionals/history/ n.d.
  20. Yves gerard illouz, md: 1929 to 2015 narins, rhoda s. md; field, lawrence m. md dermatologic surgery. 2015:Volume 41-Issue 5-p 648–649. Doi: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000323.
  21. Illouz Yves Gerard, Sterodimas Aris. Autologous fat transplantation to the breast: a personal technique with 25 years of experience. Aesthetic Plast Surg 2009;33(5):706–15. Doi: 10.1007/s00266-009-9377-1.
  22. Dansk mikrokirurgisk selskab. http://www.dmks.dk/index.php n.d.
  23. Schwartz, Seymour I., Brunicardi, F. Charles, Andersen, Dana K. Billiar, Timothy R. Dunn David L. Hunter John G. Schwartz’s principles of surgery. (tenth edition). [new york]. n.d.
  24. Polychronidis Alexandros, Laftsidis Prodromos, Bounovas Anastasios, Simopoulos Constantinos. Twenty years of laparoscopic cholecystectomy : philippe mouret — march 17 , 1987 2008:109–11.
  25. MB McDonald, HE Kaufman, JM Frantz, Shofner S, Salmeron B, SD Klyce. Excimer laser ablation human eye. Arch Ophthalmol 1989;107(5):641–2.
  26. Edwards Jeanette. Why dolly matters: kinship, culture and cloning. Ethnos 1999;64(3–4):301–24. Doi: 10.1080/00141844.1999.9981606.
  27. Dubernard J M, Owen E, Lefrancois N, Petruzzo P, Martin X, Dawahra M, et al. First human hand transplantation. case report. Transpl Int 2000;13 Suppl 1:S521-4.
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