Monday, February 25, 2013

James Edward Hanger, born February 25, 1843

James Edward Hanger was born at Mount Hope, his father's plantation near Churchville, Virginia.  His parents were William Alexander Hanger and Eliza Hogshed Hanger. He attended local elementary schools and, in 1859, enrolled at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia to study engineering. 

He was an 18-year-old sophomore when the Civil War began, and he decided to leave school and join the newly formed Churchville Cavalry, which was under the command of Captain Franklin Sterrett. 
Phillippi, Virginia
Two of Hanger's brothers and four of his cousins were already enlisted with the company. James Hanger joined a group traveling to Phillippi, Virginia (now in West Virginia). He arrived on June 2, 1861, and after enlisting, spent the night in a nearby stable with a small group of Confederates. While on guard duty the next morning, Hanger heard gunfire, and ran into the stable to get his horse. At that moment, a Union cannonball ricocheted inside the stable, striking his left leg below the knee. This was the beginning of the Battrle of Phillippi.  Hanger later wrote:
The first two shots were canister and directed at the Cavalry Camps, the third shot was a 6 pound solid shot aimed at a stable in which the Churchville Cavalry Company had slept. This shot struck the ground, richochetted, entering the stable and struck me. I remained in the stable til they came looking for plunder, about four hours after I was wounded. My limb was amputated by Dr. James D. Robinson, 16th Ohio Volunteers.
Hanger's shattered leg was amputated about seven inches below the hip bone. This loss of limb was one of the first occurrences in a war that saw more than 50,000 additional amputations performed.

Hanger remained in Philippi for several weeks and then was sent as a prisoner to Camp Chase in Ohio.   In August 1861, after a prisoner of war exchange, he returned to his family home in Virginia.

Dissatisfied with both the fit and the function of his above-knee prosthesis, Hanger designed a new prosthesis constructed of whittled barrel staves and metal.  His design used rubber bumpers rather than standard catgut tendons, and featured hinges at both the knee and foot. 

Hanger patented his limb in 1871, and it received numerous additional patents for improvements and special devices which brought international reputation to the product. The Virginia state government commissioned Hanger to manufacture the above-knee prosthesis for other wounded soldiers. Manufacturing operations for J.E. Hanger, Inc., were established in the cities of Richmond and Staunton.  The company eventually moved to Washington, D.C.

Hanger married Nora McCarthy in Richmond in 1873. The couple had two daughters (Princetta and Alice) and six sons (James Edward, Herbert Blair, McCarthy, Hugh Hamilton, Henry Hoover and Albert Sidney). The family moved to Washington, D.C., in the 1880s, and their home near Logan Circle still stands today. All of Hanger’s sons worked in the family business as adults.  

Hanger retired from active management of the company in 1905, however he retained the title of president.  In 1915, he traveled to Europe to observe firsthand the latest techniques of European prosthetists. As a result, the company received contracts with both England and France during and after World War I. 

Hanger Gravesite
At the time of Hanger’s death in 1919, the company had branches in Atlanta, Georgia; St. Louis, Missouri, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; as well as London and Paris in
Hanger’s children and grandchildren, along with in-laws and cousins, continued operating and expanding the company. By the mid 1950s there were 50 Hanger offices in North America and 25 in Europe. 

In 1989, J. E. Hanger, Inc. of Washington, D.C., was purchased by Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc. and became part of their wholly owned subsidiary, Hanger Proshetics and Orthocis.  According to the company's 2007 annual report, net sales for this patient care services segment were $571.7 million. As of 2008, Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics sees about 650,000 patients annually.

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