Fritz Steinmann (1872–1932)
Fritz Steinmann was a committed student of Theodore Kocher, another famous Swiss surgeon. When asked about his free time under Kocher, Steinmann replied that “not only did he not have one moment of free time, but that he often went months without leaving the hospital grounds.”
Early in his professional career, Steinmann practiced out of his apartment, where he allowed patients to recover postoperatively under the care of his wife. Later, Steinmann helped build a private hospital. An early xray machine was installed, allowing Steinmann to quickly evaluate trauma.
Steinmann’s interest in trauma was evident in his study of gunshot wounds. The curious doctor hung skeletons from a tree near his home, shot at them himself, and examined the effects.
Steinmann first described his skeletal traction technique in 1908 . The pin Steinmann advocated was simple, 3 to 5 mm in diameter, sharpened to a point, and designed for use with a hand drill. Tongs then were applied to the pin ends, and traction was achieved by hanging weights fixed to the tongs with sturdy cord. Steinmann knew his technique held several advantages over plaster casting, namely, freedom in positioning of patients’ limbs and the potential to adjust distracting force. Steinmann was wary, however, of infection. He insisted on asepsis and suggested that, although mechanically inferior, the use of two unicortical pins might obviate drawing of an exposed bicortical pin-end through bone on removal . Steinmann’s idea is used widely today, especially for preoperative treatment of trauma, as it is easily accomplished, allows for swelling, permits access to the injured site, and avoids dermal breakdown associated with skin traction.
Steinmann was committed to a public argument regarding the priority of his traction apparatus . Italian orthopaedist Alessandro Codivilla had described a similar means of applying traction in 1903 and 1904 . In 1910, Codivilla publicly accused Steinmann of stealing his idea . An impolite dialogue ensued between the two, and a series of rebuttals were published in a popular journal of the time .