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MGH History

First Operation Under Ether, Robert Hinckley. Source

MGH Firsts

From the first successful public demonstration of the use of ether as an anesthetic agent to the “liver in a box,” MGH has celebrated a number of firsts, nationally and internationally. They've been carried out by physicians, scientists, administrators, and nurses. Some worked alone, some collaborated with colleagues, and some went outside MGH to find like-minded individuals in academia or industry. For the most part, these accomplishments were the first in the nation or the first in the world.

Some briefly-listed MGH milestones can be found here:

1782 (opening of Harvard Medical School) – 2011 (MGH bicentennial). MGH access only.

Below are other selected “firsts."



The first North American book on tumors was written by MGH co-founder Dr. John Collins Warren

Warren JC. Surgical Observations on Tumours, with Cases and Operations. Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1837


MGH’s Warren Library became the first general hospital library in the U.S. 


The first successful public demonstration of the use of ether as an anesthetic in surgery, on October 16, 1846, was carried out by MGH co-founder Dr. John Collins Warren. See the Ether pages for much more information.


The first truly significant medical patent ever issued” was U.S. Patent No. 4848. It was given to Drs. Charles T. Jackson and William T. G. Morton for the discovery of sulfuric ether as a surgical anesthetic.


No. 4848. The United States of America : to all to whom these letters patent shall come


MGH’s Dr. John Barnard Swett Jackson became the first professor of pathology in the U.S.

Young RH, Louis DN. The Warrens and other pioneering clinician pathologists of the Massachusetts General Hospital during its early years: an appreciation on the 200th anniversary of the hospital founding. Mod Pathol. 2011 Oct;24(10):1285-94. PubMed PMID: 21926958.


MGH’s Dr. James Clarke White opened the first ward in North America dedicated to skin diseases; the following year, he became the first American professor of dermatology.


Dr. Reginald Fitz, MGH pathologist, studied the appendix and coined the word "appendicitis."

Fitz RH. Perforating inflammation of the vermiform appendix, with special reference to its early diagnosis and treatment. Philadelphia: Dornan, 1886. Reprinted from the Transactions of the Association of American Physicians, June 18, 1886.


MGH opened the Bradlee Operating Theater, the first aseptic operating room in U.S. 


Walter J. Dodd, an apothecary and photographer at MGH, produced the first X-ray exposure in a U.S. hospital.

Brown P. American martyrs to radiology. Walter James Dodd (1869-1916). 1936. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1995 Jul;165(1):181-4. PubMed PMID: 7785582.



Two 1878 graduates of the Massachusetts General Hospital Training School for Nurses, Sophia Palmer and Mary E. P. Davis, founded the American Journal of Nursing, the first independent nursing publication to be owned and operated by nurses.

The Editor. American Journal of Nursing. 1900 Oct; 1(1):64-66.


Though MGH’s Ida M. Cannon and Dr. Richard Cabot are credited with establishing the first Social Service department located within a hospital, Cannon was preceded by Garnet Pelton, a 1903 graduate of the MGH Training School for Nurses. Pelton resigned after falling ill within 6 months of being hired.


MGH reported the first systematic work in industrial disease undertaken by any U.S. hospital.

Washburn, Frederic A. The Massachusetts General Hospital; its Development, 1900-1935 [Contact MGH Archives for use]. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1939,  p. 391-395.


A pioneering allergy clinic was instituted by MGH’s Dr. Joseph L. Goodale, who was “the first to make a skin test with substances other than pollen.”

Cohen SG. Blocking asthmatic progression and chronicity in the pre-corticosteroid era. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2008 Mar;121(3):787-90. PubMed PMID: 18328904.

Washburn, Frederic A. The Massachusetts General Hospital; its Development, 1900-1935 [Contact MGH Archives for use]. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1939,  p. 373-375.


MGH physician Dr. Paul Dudley White introduced the use of the electrocardiogram (ECG) in the U.S.

Tan SY, Kwock E. Paul Dudley White (1886-1973): Pioneer in modern cardiology. Singapore Med J. 2016 Apr;57(4):215-6. PubMed PMID: 27075760; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4853490.


MGH physician Dr. Ernest Amory Codman founded the Registry of Bone Sarcoma, the first national registry of its kind in the U.S.

Brand RA. Biographical sketch: Ernest Amory Codman, MD (1869-1940). Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2013 Jun;471(6):1775-7. PubMed PMID: 23247819; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3706647.

Codman EA. The classic: registry of bone sarcoma: part I.--Twenty-five criteria for establishing the diagnosis of osteogenic sarcoma. part II.--Thirteen registered cases of "five year cures" analyzed according to these criteria. 1926Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 Nov;467(11):2771-82. doi: 10.1007/s11999-009-1049-6. PubMed PMID: 19690927; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2758960.


Pediatric hospital recreation was pioneered in the U.S. by MGH’s Isabelle L. Whittier.

Whittier, IL. Occupation for Children in Hospitals. Archives of Occupational Therapy. 1922 Feb;1(1):41-8.

Bedini L. The 'play ladies'-The first therapeutic recreation specialists Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. 1995 Oct; 66 (8): 32-5.


Under the leadership of Dr. Richard C. Cabot, MGH became the first hospital in the country to offer a   pastoral care training program.


MGH’s Dr.  Joseph S. Barr and and Dr. William J. Mixter demonstrated the role of herniated intervertebral discs as the source of severe back and leg pain, and that this can be relieved by surgical intervention.

Barr JS,  Mixter WJ. Rupture of the intervertebral disc with involvement of the spinal canal. N  Engl  J  Med. 1934  Aug; 2; 211(5): 210-5 .


A man of many “firsts,” MGH endocrinologist Dr. Fuller Albright described what came to be known as Albright Syndrome.

Manring MM, Calhoun JH. Biographical sketch: Fuller Albright, MD 1900-1969.Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2011 Aug;469(8):2092-5. doi: 10.1007/s11999-011-1831-0.PubMed PMID: 21384213; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3126964.


MGH’s Dr. Edward D. Churchill, who performed the first successful pericardiectomy in the United States,  developed the technique of segmental resection of the lung for certain infections like bronchiectasis, resulting in  greatly improved quality of life.

Churchill ED, Belsey R. Segmental pneumonectomy in bronchiectasis: the lingula segment of the left upper lobe. Ann Surg. 1939 Apr;109(4):481-99. PubMed PMID:17857340; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1391296.  


MGH’s Ada Plumer became the first “official IV [intravenous] nurse” in the U.S. Until that time, it had been a medical role.

Alexander M. Ada Lawrence Plumer. J Infus Nurs. 2007 Jul-Aug;30(4):189-90. PubMed PMID: 17667069.

Weinstein SM, Hagle ME. Plumer's Principles & Practice of Infusion Therapy. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014, 9th ed.

1941 Dr. Henry K. Beecher was appointed to the Henry Isaiah Dorr Chair in Anesthesiology, the first endowed chair of anesthesiology in the U.S.


MGH’s Dr. Saul Hertz and MIT physicist Dr. Arthur Roberts used radioactive iodine for the first time as a therapeutic agent in the diagnosis and treatment of Graves’ disease, helping to usher in the field of nuclear medicine.

Hertz S, Roberts A. Application of radioactive iodine in therapy of Graves’ disease. J Clin Invest. 1942 Sep; 21: 624.


The first recorded use of penicillin in treatment of burns – suffered by victims of Boston’s Cocoanut Grove Fire -- took place at MGH.

Massachusetts General Hospital. Management of the Cocoanut Grove Burns at the Massachusetts General Hospital, by members of the staff, Joseph C. Aub [and others]. Philadelphia: Lippincott, [1943].

Saturday night at the Cocoanut Grove.  IN: Ravage, Barbara. Burn unit: Saving lives after the flames.  Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004.[Online access requires a free username/password.  For the print edition, contact MGH Archives for use.]


MGH's Dr. Fritz Lipmann, who in 1945 discovered coenzyme A, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for pioneering research on the conversion of food into energy.

Novelli G. Personal recollections on Fritz Lipmann during the early years of coenzyme A research. Mol Biol Biochem Biophys. 1980;32:415-30. PubMed PMID: 7003353.


MGH’s Dr. C. Miller Fisher,  more than anyone of his generation, “brought cerebrovascular diseases under scrutiny, and many of the advances in the field can be traced to his original observations.”  Among his many other accomplishments, he introduced the term transient ischemic attack as a warning sign of stroke.

Ackerman RH. Celebrating the life of C. Miller Fisher. Int J Stroke. 2012 Aug;7(6):444-6.   PubMed PMID: 22805573.

C. Miller Fisher: the master of clinicopathologic correlation. Interview by Jonathan D. Trobe. J Neuroophthalmol. 2004 Mar;24(1):68-80. PubMed PMID: 15206443.

The Massachusetts General Hospital, 1955-1980 [Contact MGH Archives for use], edited by Benjamin Castleman, David C. Crockett, S.B. Sutton; foreword by John E. Lawrence. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983, p. 159-160.


Drs. Wilma Jeanne Canada  and Leonard W. Cronkhite, Jr., both residents in radiology at MGH, were the first to recognize the syndrome that bears their name, Cronkhite–Canada Syndrome.   

Cronkhite LW Jr, Canada WJ. Generalized gastrointestinal polyposis; an unusual syndrome of polyposis, pigmentation, alopecia and onychotrophia. N Engl J Med. 1955 Jun 16;252(24):1011-5. PubMed PMID: 14383952



MGH neurosurgeon Dr. Raymond N. Kjellberg and colleagues began treating small intracranial targets with radiosurgical techniques at the Harvard Cyclotron Laboratory (HCL).

Smith AR. Proton therapy. Phys Med Biol. 2006 Jul 7;51(13):R491-504. PubMed PMID: 16790919


MGH’s Dr. Ronald Malt and his team led the first successful limb replantation after twelve-year-old Everett "Red" Knowles’s arm had been severed in an accident.


MGH’s Dr. Charles Huggins helped revolutionize blood bank procedures through his invention of the cytoglomerator, enabling freezing and storing red blood cells for extended periods.

Huggins CE. Frozen blood. Ann Surg. 1964 Oct;160:643-9. PubMed PMID: 14210366; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1408914.


The series of discoveries made by MGH’s Dr. John T. Potts and colleagues laid the groundwork for current understanding of calcium metabolism. 

Potts JT. A conversation with John T. Potts Jr. Interview by Ushma S. Neill. J Clin Invest. 2013 Nov; 123(11):4544-5. PMID: 24177463; PMCID: PMC3809803.

Jameson JL. Introduction of John T. Potts Jr. J Clin Invest. 2013 Nov;123(11):4971-7.  PubMed PMID: 24177469; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3809814.


MGH’s orthopedic surgeon Dr. Melvin Glimcher, in partnership with MIT, Harvard Medical School, and the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, invented the Boston Arm, an artificial upper arm that was activated by electrical impulses generated in the muscles of the natural arm stump.

Calabro A. Giants of Orthopaedic Surgery: Melvin J. Glimcher MD. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2015 Aug;473(8):2469-73. doi: 10.1007/s11999-015-4398-3. PubMed PMID: 26066067; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4488197.


The first telemedicine system, which linked a medical station at Boston's Logan Airport with doctors at MGH, was established.


Murphy RL Jr, Bird KT. Telediagnosis: a new community health resource. Observations on the feasibility of telediagnosis based on 1000 patient transactions. Am J Public Health. 1974 Feb;64(2):113-9. PubMed PMID: 4129472; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1775394.

Smith PE. Doctoring on a Screen. Telemedicine made its first broadcast 50 years ago in an airport clinic.  Proto. 2018 Sep.


Considered the “father of modern-day tracheal surgery” in the United States, MGH’s Dr. Hermes Grillo developed original operations for disorders that were once considered uncorrectable.    


Deslauriers J. Birth of Airway Surgery and Evolution over the Past Fifty Years. Thorac Surg Clin. 2018   May;28(2):109-115.PubMed PMID: 29627043.


Three MGH physicians: Drs. Howard Ulfelder, Arthur L. Herbst and David C. Poskanzer, were the first to discover the link between the vaginal clear cell adenocarcinoma and the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol), at one time prescribed to prevent miscarriages.

Herbst AL, Ulfelder H, Poskanzer DC, Longo LD. Adenocarcinoma of the vagina. Association of  maternal stilbestrol therapy with tumor appearance in young women. N Engl J Med. 1971 Apr  15;284(15):878-81. PubMed PMID: 5549830


MGH dermatologists Drs. Thomas Fitzpatrick and John Parrish introduced the field of photochemotherapy to treat skin disorders such as psoriasis.

Parrish JA, Fitzpatrick TB, Tanenbaum L, Pathak MA. Photochemotherapy of psoriasis with oral methoxsalen and longwave ultraviolet light. N Engl J Med. 1974 Dec 5;291(23):1207-11. PubMed PMID: 4422691.


MGH’s Dr. Jeffrey B. Cooper, with colleagues at MGH and MIT, developed the “Boston Anesthesia System,”  the first anesthesia machine engineered by way of human-factors studies, and the first with computer-based operations

Cooper JB, Newbower RS, Moore JW, Trautman ED. A new anesthesia delivery system. Anesthesiology. 1978 Nov;49(5):310-8. PubMed PMID: 736286.

Bause GS. The Boston anesthesia system. Anesthesiology. 2011 eb;114(2):236.doi: 10.1097/ALN.0b013e318210be60. PubMed PMID: 21266863.


MGH surgeon Dr. John F. Burke, along with Dr. Ioannis V. Yannas, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s department of mechanical engineering, invented the first commercially reproducible, synthetic human skin


Dr. Allan Goroll, a pioneer of modern primary care, collaborated with his MGH colleagues on the first textbook in that field.

Goroll AH, May LH, Mulley AG. Primary Care Medicine. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1981.


MGH neurogeneticist Dr. James Gusella lead a team that found a genetic marker for Huntington’s disease. 

Gusella JF, Wexler NS, Conneally PM, Naylor SL, Anderson MA, Tanzi RE, Watkins PC, Ottina K, Wallace MR, Sakaguchi AY, et al. A polymorphic DNA marker genetically linked to Huntington's disease. Nature. 1983 Nov 17-23;306(5940):234-8. PubMed PMID: 6316146.


MGH’s Dr. Martin S. Hirsch is “widely recognized as a pioneer in HIV combination therapy because of his trailblazing studies of drug combinations in vitro and in vivo.”

Hartshorn KL, Sandstrom EG, Neumeyer D, Paradis TJ, Chou TC, Schooley RT,Hirsch MS. Synergistic inhibition of human T-cell lymphotropic virus type III replication in vitro by phosphonoformate and recombinant alpha-A interferon. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1986 Jul;30(1):189-91. PubMed PMID: 3019235; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC176465.

1989 MGH became the first hospital in the U.S. whose library had an online catalog

Dr. Jack Belliveau, researcher in MGH’s Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, reported the first demonstration of functional MRI (fMRI).

Belliveau JW, Kennedy DN Jr, McKinstry RC, Buchbinder BR, Weisskoff RM, Cohen MS, Vevea JM, Brady TJ, Rosen BR. Functional mapping of the human visual cortex by magnetic resonance imaging. Science. 1991 Nov 1;254(5032):716-9. PubMed PMID: 1948051.

1999 MGH trauma surgeon Dr. Susan Briggs established and became the first director of the International Medical Surgical Response Team (IMSuRT), an emergency response team, sponsored by MGH.

MGH’s Dr. Thomas Spitzer and colleagues reported on the first-ever organ transplant carried out with the intention of stopping antirejection therapy. A bone marrow transplant enabled a kidney transplant patient to survive without antirejection drugs for almost year with no sign of rejection.

Spitzer TR, Delmonico F, Tolkoff-Rubin N, McAfee S, Sackstein R, Saidman S, Colby C, Sykes M, Sachs DH, Cosimi AB. Combined histocompatibility leukocyte antigen-matched donor bone marrow and renal transplantation for multiple myeloma with end stage renal disease: the induction of allograft tolerance through mixed lymphohematopoietic chimerism. Transplantation. 1999 Aug 27;68(4):480-4. PubMed PMID: 10480403




MGH became the first hospital in Massachusetts to earn Magnet designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).


MGH’s Disparities Solutions Center, opened under the direction of Dr. Joseph Betancourt, was the first of its kind in the U.S. to be hospital-based. (p. 59-60)


MGH  surgeons  performed the first total hip replacement using a joint socket lined with a novel material invented at MGH.  The new material was developed by MGH’s Orhun Muratoglu, PhD, director of the Harris Orthopaedics Biomechanics and Biomaterials Laboratory , in collaboration with scientists at the Cambridge Polymer Group.



MGH’s Dr. Daniel A. Haber, Dr. Mehmet Toner, and colleagues developed a microchip-based test (CTC-chip) that can identify tumor cells floating in the blood of cancer patients.

Nagrath S, Sequist LV, Maheswaran S, Bell DW, Irimia D, Ulkus L, Smith MR, Kwak EL, Digumarthy S, Muzikansky A, Ryan P, Balis UJ, Tompkins RG, Haber DA, Toner M. Isolation of rare circulating tumour cells in cancer patients by microchip technology. Nature. 2007 Dec 20;450(7173):1235-9. PubMed PMID:18097410; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3090667.

Maheswaran S, Sequist LV, Nagrath S, Ulkus L, Brannigan B, Collura CV, Inserra E, Diederichs S, Iafrate AJ, Bell DW, Digumarthy S, Muzikansky A, Irimia D, Settleman J, Tompkins RG, Lynch TJ, Toner M, Haber DA. Detection of mutations in EGFR in circulating lung-cancer cells. N Engl J Med. 2008 Jul 24;359(4):366-77. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0800668. PubMed PMID: 18596266; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3551471.



The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009 was awarded to MGH’s Dr. Jack W. Szostak and colleagues “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.

2011 MGH Breast Imaging Division "scanned the first U.S. patient using breast tomosynthesis, a revolutionary three-dimensional (3D) mammogram imaging technology."
2012 Dr.  Kenneth Rosenfield and colleagues at MGH developed the first pulmonary embolism response team (PERT) in the United States.  


An international team led by MGH researchers  identified the first gene that causes mitral valve prolapse.  Senior author of the paper, MGHs Susan A. Slaugenhaupt, PhD    stated: “This work provides insights into the pathways regulating valve growth and development and implicates a previously unrecognized basis for the long-term structural integrity of the mitral valve.”

Durst R, Sauls K, Peal DS, deVlaming A, Toomer K, Leyne M, Salani M, Talkowski ME, Brand H, Perrocheau M, Simpson C, Jett C, Stone MR, Charles F, Chiang C, Lynch SN, Bouatia-Naji N, Delling FN, Freed LA, Tribouilloy C, Le Tourneau T, LeMarec H, Fernandez-Friera L, Solis J, Trujillano D, Ossowski S, Estivill X, Dina C, Bruneval P, Chester A, Schott JJ, Irvine KD, Mao Y, Wessels A, Motiwala T, Puceat M, Tsukasaki Y, Menick DR, Kasiganesan H, Nie X, Broome AM, Williams K, Johnson A, Markwald RR, Jeunemaitre X, Hagege A, Levine RA, Milan DJ, Norris RA, Slaugenhaupt SA. Mutations in DCHS1 cause mitral valve prolapse. Nature. 2015 Sep 3;525(7567):109-13. PubMed PMID: 26258302; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4720389.


A surgical team led by MGHers Drs. Curtis L. Cetrulo, Jr. and Dicken S.C. Ko performed the country’s first genitourinary vascularized composite allograft (penile) transplant.

Ruscic KJ, Zamora-Berridi GJ, McGovern FJ, Cetrulo C, Winograd JM, Eberlin KR, Bojovic B, Ko DS, Anderson TA. Epidural Anesthesia to Facilitate Organ Blood Flow During the First Penile Transplantation in the United States: A Case Report. A A  Pract. 2018 May 1;10(9):232-234. doi: 10.1213/XAA.0000000000000672. PubMed PMID: 29708917.


MGH was the first hospital in the country where a liver transplant was performed using what doctors loosely call “liver in a box,” a portable device.


MGH’s Dr. Bradley E. Bernstein, along with colleagues from MGH, Mass. Eye and Ear, and the Broad Institute at MIT, created the first atlas of head and neck cancer, revealing the many different kinds of cells, cancerous and non-cancerous, in primary head and neck tumors and their metastases, providing clues about how head and neck cancers metastasize.

Puram SV, Tirosh I, Parikh AS, Patel AP, Yizhak K, Gillespie S, Rodman C, Luo CL, Mroz EA, Emerick KS, Deschler DG, Varvares MA, Mylvaganam R, Rozenblatt-Rosen O, Rocco JW, Faquin WC, Lin DT, Regev A, Bernstein BE. Single-Cell Transcriptomic Analysis of Primary and Metastatic Tumor Ecosystems in Head and Neck Cancer. Cell. 2017 Dec 14;171(7):1611-1624.e24. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.10.044. Epub 2017 Nov 30. PubMed PMID: 29198524.

2018  A team of MGH physicians: Drs. Michael Young, Gaston Cudemus, Ignacio Inglessis, Jonathan Passeri, and Sergei Melnitchouk, at the hospital’s Corrigan Minehan Heart Center, was the first in New England to perform minimally-invasive transcatheter mitral valve replacement.