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Lamb’s Wool Tampons, And Surgical Dressings From The Early 1900s

The surgical dressings section of the old surgery text, A Text-Book of Minor Surgery by Edward Milton Foote, MD, I first mentioned on Monday is very interesting.


Cotton in its raw state has very little absorbent power because of the oil and gum with which its fibers are covered. When the cotton has been bleaches by chemicals, and the oil extracted, its absorbent power is very great. This fact, together with its cheapness and lightness, the toughness of its fiber, and its ready sterilization by steam or dry heat make it almost the ideal material for surgical dressings.

Unbleached Cotton

This is cotton in its natural state, freed from dirt, combed, and put up in pound rolls. It is non-absorbent and has a greater elasticity than the absorbent cotton. It is therefore preferable as a padding for splints, and to diffuse the pressure of a non-elastic bandage….It costs about thirty five cents a pound…..

Absorbent Cotton

as supplied by the manufactures of surgical dressings, is freed from dirt, gum, and oil, combed and sterilized, and so wrapped in tissue-paper that with a little care it remains aseptic until it is all used. It is furnished in packages of various sizes, from a half ounce to one pound, costing thirty-five cents a pound in pound packages. On account of its lack of elasticity, it is inferior to unbleached cotton as a padding for splints, etc.

Dry cotton is not a suitable material to bring into contact with a wound either during operation or afterward. In the former case its fibers are likely to stick to the wound, and also to the fingers of the operator. In the latter case, if the discharge is small, it is likely to evaporate and seal the cotton to the wound or to the surrounding skin with a scab which is difficult of removal. If cotton is used for sponging, during an operation, balls of suitable size should first be saturated with saline or some antiseptic solution, and then squeezed dry.

Substitutes for Cotton

Lamb’s Wool

Lamb’s wool has great elasticity, does not become soggy when exposed to moisture, and absorbs readily oily substances and glycerids. When cleaned and sterilized it is therefore an excellent material for vaginal tampons.

[So very different from today!]


Bleached absorbent gauze is the most important item in surgical dressings. The firmness of the material varies according to the number of threads to the inch. The quality should be selected according to the purpose for which it is desired. Thus a gauze which has 24 X 32 threads to the square inch is suitable for sponges or for dressings, but has not sufficient firmness to make a good bandage. On the other hand, a gauze with 40 X 44 threads to the square inch, used for bandages, is unnecessarily expensive when used for sponges or dressings. It is, however, an unwise economy to select for sponges and dressings a gauze with too large a mesh. Such a gauze absorbs so little that an additional quantity is required in every case, so that the total expense is very likely increased.

Gauze suitable for sponges and dressings, have 26 X 32 threads to the four to five cents a yard, by the piece of 100 yards. This price is increased to eight or even ten cents a yard when the gauze is purchased in small pieces, previously sterilized and hermetically sealed.

Unbleached Muslin Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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