The full content of Annals is available to subscribers

Subscribe/Learn More  >
Medical Writings |

The Mütter Museum: Education, Preservation, and Commemoration

Erin H. McLeary, MD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

University of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, PA 19104 (McLeary)

Grant Support: By the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship and Francis C. Wood Institute for the History of Medicine Resident Research Fellowship.

Requests for Single Reprints: Erin McLeary, Department of History and Sociology of Science, 303 Logan Hall, 249 South 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

Requests To Purchase Bulk Reprints (minimum, 100 copies): the Reprints Coordinator; phone, 215-351-2657; e-mail, reprints@mail.acponline.org.

Ann Intern Med. 2000;132(7):599-603. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-132-7-200004040-00033
Text Size: A A A

In the mid-19th century, Austrian anatomist Joseph Hyrtl began to collect skulls: skulls from every ethnic group in Eastern Europe, skulls of robbers and of prostitutes, skulls of men killed by violence and men killed by grief. These skulls were more than an impressive demonstration of ethnic variation. The skull collection, along with Hyrtl's other anatomical preparations—microscopic injections of lymphatics and comparative anatomy collections—was a source of income for the anatomist. Like many vendors of unique wares, Hyrtl advertised and issued catalogs, some of which made their way to the United States. In 1874, Philadelphia physician Thomas Hewson Bache traveled to Austria and acquired the skull collection for 6410 Prussian thaler, or about $4800. For the past 125 years, these 139 skulls have peered down at visitors to the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (1).

First Page Preview

View Large
First page PDF preview


Grahic Jump Location
Figure 1.
Interior of the Mütter Museum, housed in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

The skeleton of a giant and that of a dwarf are exhibited together. Photograph by Jack Ramsdale. Courtesy of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Grahic Jump Location
Grahic Jump Location
Figure 2.
The museum at Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, as it was used to study topographic anatomy in the 1920s.

Students would sit at tables (shown on the right) and study specimens that they selected from the collection. From Hardesty I. Department of Anatomy, Tulane University School of Medicine. In: Methods and Problems in Medical Education, series 16. New York: Rockefeller Foundation; 1930:174-89.

Grahic Jump Location
Grahic Jump Location
Figure 3.
Terra cotta discus covered with glass for mounting cross-sections.Bulletin of the International Association of Medical Museums.

Methods of preserving specimens so that they retained their informational value were frequently discussed in the The method shown here was considered visually pleasing, long-lasting, and affordable ($4 in 1918). From Terry RJ. Museum jars of porcelain and terra cotta. Bulletin of the International Association of Medical Museums. 1992; 8:79-82.

Grahic Jump Location
Grahic Jump Location
Figure 4.
The anatomical amphitheater at Hahnemann Medical School, Philadelphia.

The lecture is accompanied by demonstration of museum specimens. From Bradford T. History of the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Boericke & Tafel; 1898.

Grahic Jump Location




Citing articles are presented as examples only. In non-demo SCM6 implementation, integration with CrossRef’s "Cited By" API will populate this tab (http://www.crossref.org/citedby.html).


Submit a Comment/Letter
Submit a Comment/Letter

Summary for Patients

Clinical Slide Sets

Terms of Use

The In the Clinic® slide sets are owned and copyrighted by the American College of Physicians (ACP). All text, graphics, trademarks, and other intellectual property incorporated into the slide sets remain the sole and exclusive property of the ACP. The slide sets may be used only by the person who downloads or purchases them and only for the purpose of presenting them during not-for-profit educational activities. Users may incorporate the entire slide set or selected individual slides into their own teaching presentations but may not alter the content of the slides in any way or remove the ACP copyright notice. Users may make print copies for use as hand-outs for the audience the user is personally addressing but may not otherwise reproduce or distribute the slides by any means or media, including but not limited to sending them as e-mail attachments, posting them on Internet or Intranet sites, publishing them in meeting proceedings, or making them available for sale or distribution in any unauthorized form, without the express written permission of the ACP. Unauthorized use of the In the Clinic slide sets will constitute copyright infringement.


Buy Now for $32.00

to gain full access to the content and tools.

Want to Subscribe?

Learn more about subscription options

Topic Collections
Forgot your password?
Enter your username and email address. We'll send you a reminder to the email address on record.