Since its founding in 1863, HSS has trained the minds, hearts, and hands of some of the finest orthopedic surgeons in the United States. A steadfast commitment to excellence in education dates back to the Hospital's earliest traditions and continues to influence its present-day mission and vision. In the below timeline, read highlights of our history and see our transformation from a small orthopedic hospital in a brownstone on Second Avenue to a major academic medical center that is the preeminent musculoskeletal hospital in the world.
1863 – Dr. James A. Knight, Surgeon-in-Chief: The Hospital for the Relief of the Ruptured and Crippled is founded with the support of Robert M. Hartley of the New York Society for the Relief of the Ruptured and Crippled
In 1863, New York was a burgeoning city of 800,000. Then as now, its diverse population was marked by extremes of wealth and poverty. With the philanthropic efforts of Robert M. Hartley, Dr. James A. Knight, a general practitioner from Maryland, founded an orthopedic hospital to meet the treatment and rehabilitation needs of disabled people. On April 13, 1863, the Society for the Relief of the Ruptured and Crippled was incorporated in the State of New York. The Hospital, now the oldest existing orthopedic hospital in the United States, with 28 inpatient beds, was located in Dr. Knight's private residence on Second Avenue and 6th Street. It opened its doors to its first patients on May 1, 1863, in the middle of the Civil War.
In its first year, the Hospital treated 824 patients. It soon became clear that a larger building would be needed to accommodate the growing demand for the Hospital's services. A group of prominent New Yorkers led by John C. Green, a successful trader, set about raising more than $200,000 for a new facility, which opened in May of 1870 on the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, the site presently occupied by the Hyatt Hotel.
The Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled flourished under Dr. Knight's leadership. His attitude toward care emphasized sunshine and fresh air, along with diet, exercise, electrical stimulation, and gentle rehabilitation, known as Expectant Treatment. Given the frequency and severity of surgical infection at the time, Dr. Knight considered surgical treatment detrimental. With few exceptions, surgical operations were not performed during his tenure as Surgeon-in-Chief.
1887 – Dr. Virgil P. Gibney, Surgeon-in-Chief: Establishes the first Operating Room, Hernia Department, and Resident Training Program
Dr. Knight's successor, Dr. Virgil P. Gibney, couldn't have been more different in his approach to orthopedic care. Dr. Gibney who became the first Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia Medical College. Dr. Gibney strongly advocated the use of plaster of paris, traction, and even surgery in certain cases. Assuming the position of Surgeon-in-Chief in 1887, he led the effort to expand the Hospital from a local, crippled children's hospital to an internationally renowned center for the treatment of musculoskeletal diseases.
Dr. Gibney's first major project was to establish a separate Hernia Department. Committed to the importance of surgery, he opened the hospital’s first operating room in 1889 and recruited some of New York's foremost surgeons, including Dr. Royal Whitman and Dr. William T. Bull, to the Hospital's staff. He established the first orthopedic residency training program in this country. Because of pressure from the New York Central Railroad, in 1912 the hospital moved to a new building on 42nd Street and Second Avenue, now the site of the Ford Foundation.
By 1924, the final year of his leadership, more than 3,000 surgical procedures had been performed at the Hospital, addressing the complete spectrum of orthopedic pathology.
1924 – Dr. R. Garfield Snyder, Physician-in-Chief: First Chief of Arthritis appointed
1925 – Dr. William Bradley Coley, Surgeon-in-Chief: General Surgeon, world famous for malignant tumors
1933 – Dr. Eugene H. Pool, Surgeon-in-Chief: General Surgeon at the New York Hospital
1935 – Dr. Philip D. Wilson, Surgeon-in-Chief: Hospital name changes in 1940 to the Hospital for Special Surgery, HSS begins its affiliation with the New York Hospital and Cornell University Medical College
A famous orthopedic surgeon from Boston, Dr. Wilson makes major changes in the hospital, eliminating the Hernia Department and focusing on musculoskeletal conditions. Under Dr. Wilson's leadership, HSS became a national center for the treatment of victims of the polio epidemic. One of the first bone banks in the United States was established at the Hospital in 1948. In 1949, it entered an agreement of affiliation with New York Hospital and Cornell University Medical College. Under the terms of the agreement, HSS would provide orthopedic and rheumatological services for the newly expanded medical center.
The Hospital moved to its present site on the East River between 70th and 71st Streets in 1955, just one year before Dr. Wilson retired as Surgeon-in-Chief to assume the position of first Director of Research. The construction of the Alfred H. Caspary Research Building in 1956 marked the beginning of a new era in orthopedics, in which the specialty would benefit from ever-deeper grounding in basic research. This, along with university affiliation, positioned HSS to become a world leader in the field.
1944 – Dr. Richard Freyberg, Physician-in-Chief: Establishes fellowships in rheumatology
Dr. Richard Freyberg, who assumed the position of Physician-in-Chief in 1944, developed a world-renowned rheumatic disease service at the Hospital.
1955 – Dr. T. Campbell Thompson, Surgeon-in-Chief: Expands orthopedic surgical treatment, introduces the Fracture Service at New York Hospital and the opening of the Margaret Caspary Research Building
Dr. Thompson was challenged by the new affiliation with the New York Hospital and Cornell Medical College. HSS provided the orthopedic and rheumatological services for the New York Hospital. In return, the New York Hospital provided the Fracture service and Emergency Room services, utilizing mainly HSS’ staff. The new research building was opened in 1960 and bed capacity of the hospital increased to 196.
1963 – Dr. Robert Lee Patterson, Jr., Surgeon-in-Chief: Begins HSS’ long-standing excellence in joint replacements, oversees major developments in lupus, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders, and establishes HSS’ biomechanics laboratory and fellowship program
Dr. Robert Lee Patterson, Jr., who was appointed Surgeon-in-Chief in 1963, foresaw the coming impact of technology and bioengineering on orthopedics. Prosthetic replacement of the hip had already arrived, and a prototype of a knee replacement was developed in 1970, leading to the evolution of the HSS Total Condylar Knee Replacement used worldwide. Implants for the elbow and wrist followed soon after. Dr. Patterson established a biomechanics laboratory that would foster close collaboration between surgeons and engineers toward the continual improvement of prosthesis design.
During the 1970s, education programs were expanded to include post-graduate fellows from the United States and abroad. The Hospital's affiliation with Cornell Medical College was strengthened, facilitating student rotations through clinical services at HSS.
1970 – Dr. Charles L. Christian, Physician-in-Chief: Director of Rheumatology
Dr. Charles Christian brought an exciting emphasis on immunologic research to the position. He and his colleagues advanced the understanding of the roles of genetic factors, immune complexes, and infectious agents in the development of autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis.
1972 – Dr. Philip D. Wilson, Jr., Surgeon-in-Chief: Expands the Hospital's research department and oversees the introduction of many new services and centers
In 1972, the Hospital named Dr. Philip D. Wilson, Jr., as Surgeon-in-Chief, the same position held by his father 37 years earlier. During his tenure, the residency program became one of the most sought after in the United States. Dr. Wilson, Jr., also expanded the Hospital's robust research department and brought biomechanics into the computer age. Since then, computer-assisted design methods have become standard at HSS in advancing the design and manufacture of custom prosthetic implants. In 1980, major expansion was completed with an increase from four operating rooms to eight with specially designed areas for performing total joint procedures.
The final decades of the last century brought yet another series of additions to the Hospital, with the opening of the Sports Medicine, Research and Performance Center; the Osteoporosis Center; the Pediatric Rheumatic Disease Unit; the Orthopedic Trauma Service; the Women's Sports Medicine Center; the Barbara Volcker Center for Women and Rheumatic Disease; and the Physiatry Service. In 1988, the year of its 125th anniversary, HSS was designated a Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of 13 nationwide. Five years later, the NIH further designated the Hospital as a Specialized Center of Research (SCOR), one of two in the United States, for the study of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
1990 – Dr. Andrew J. Weiland, Surgeon-in-Chief: Introduces the ambulatory hand surgery operating rooms
A ninth operating room was added on the fourth floor and two new operating rooms were opened in the ambulatory suite on the first floor. As length of stay was dramatically reduced, 32 beds were decertified.
1993 – Dr. Russell F. Warren, Surgeon-in-Chief: Oversees major staff changes, hospital expansion over the East River Drive in 1995, and the addition of four new operation rooms
1995 – Dr. Stephen A. Paget, Physician-in-Chief: Oversees research, education, and the introduction of new biologic agents in the treatment of rheumatology
The Department of Physiatry was established and four new operating rooms were opened on the fourth floor. The Barbara Volker Center for Women with Rheumatic Diseases was also created.
2003 – Dr. Thomas P. Sculco, Surgeon-in-Chief: Introduces new leadership in academic training, clinical services, and musculoskeletal research
A major change in departmental organization included academic training, clinical services, and clinical research. Major hospital expansion began with three floors added to the West building and plans for expanding over the East River Drive from the Caspary Research building.
2010 – Dr. Mary K. Crow, Physician-in-Chief
2014 – Dr. Todd J. Albert, Surgeon-in-Chief
2019 – Dr. Bryan T Kelly, Surgeon-in-Chief
2020 – Dr. S. Louis Bridges, Jr., Physician-in-Chief
2023 – Dr. Douglas E. Padgett, Surgeon-in-Chief
Today – The pattern of dedication, innovation, and humanism in medicine continues today at HSS. All along, HSS has used its strengths in education and research to improve the quality of care it provides to its patients. Under the direction of the surgeon-in-chief and physician-in-chief, HSS continues to meet a high-quality standard of patient care, treating each patient with respect and compassion.