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2004/158/1 Prosthetic arm with attachments, wood / metal / leather / fibreglass / fabric / elastic, maker unknown, place of production unknown, 1920-1940. Click to enlarge.

Prosthetic arm with attachments

  • 1920 - 1940
Artificial limbs were first made in the 1700s but, over the next century and a half, escalating injuries in factories and on battlefields meant that a small limb-manufacturing industry grew up. Until the early 20th century artificial limbs were generally made of wood but the huge number of limbless veterans of the First World War created a need that saw an expansion of the industry and great competition to improve designs. It was during this time that stronger, lighter metal limbs came to dominate the market.

This prosthetic arm has a wooden or synthetic upper arm, while the forearm is metal. A sophisticated mechanism in the elbow would have allowed the user to bend and straighten the arm using his shoulder muscles. Like artificial arms dating back to at least the late 1800s, this arm came with a set of attachments, or 'appliances', from a cosmetic wooden hand, to cutlery, to metal tools, allowing the user to perform a number of tasks in his home or workplace.

Guyatt, Mary, 'Better legs: artificial limbs for British veterans of the First World War', Journal of Design History, Vol.14 No.4, 2001, pp.307-325.

Wood, Gaby, 'Phantom limbs or The case of Captain Aubert and the Bengal tiger', in Hawkins, Hildi, & Olsen, Danielle, The phantom museum and Henry Wellcome's collection of medical curiosties, London: Profile Books, 2003, pp. 75-103.


Object No.


Object Statement

Prosthetic arm with attachments, wood / metal / leather / fibreglass / fabric / elastic, maker unknown, place of production unknown, 1920-1940

Physical Description

This is a full-length artificial arm with a movable elbow joint, the mechanism of which is operated from the shoulder by a leather cord. The upper arm is made of fibreglass lined with leather where the user's upper arm would fit. Straps made of fabric, leather and elastic with metal buckles enable the arm to be attached to the body at the shoulder. The elbow joint and forearm are metal and there are six attachments that can lock into the arm at the 'wrist'. These are a carved wooden, unjointed hand; a metal knife blade, fork, hook and ring; and a hinged, cylindrical metal clamp.



  • 1920 - 1940


The manufacturer of the artificial arm is unknown. There are no maker's marks except on the knife blade, which is from an ordinary piece of cutlery and carries the name of a manufacturer in Sheffield, England.



Found amongst the possessions of the donor's father but had originally belonged to his (the father's) grandfather's brother.

The style of the arm, being partially metal (rather than all wood) suggests that it was probably manufactured following the First World War (1915-1918).


Credit Line

Gift of Richard and Carol Dubois, 2004

Acquisition Date

26 November 2004

Cite this Object


Prosthetic arm with attachments 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 30 October 2020, <>


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