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History of Medicine Book of the Week: Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery (1911)

An illustration from the History of Medicine Book of the Week: Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery (1911)

An example of a successful rhinoplasty. From Frederick Strange Kolle, Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery (New York; London: D. Appleton and Company, 1911), 463 (figures 490 and 491: Nose Correction).

Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery Principles Discussed in the Early 20th Century

By Jaymee Stout

Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery was published in 1911 by Frederick Strange Kolle, who was a medical doctor born in Germany and one of the original investigators of the x-ray. Kolle was considered an “X-Ray Pioneer” and a well-known plastic surgeon in Brooklyn, New York. His methods in plastic surgery were in use in virtually all the allied hospitals at the front during the first World War and Kolle was praised for his skill and expertise in plastic surgery.[i] In the preface of Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery, Kolle addresses his reasons for writing this book, stating that there was a growing need for more written accounts and detailed methods being described, and that there was an actual need for an authoritative work on the subject of plastic and cosmetic surgery. While Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery has 511 pages and 522 detailed hand-drawn illustrations on nearly every page, it was not the first large text on plastic and cosmetic surgery nor was it revolutionary for the time or the future.

According to “The Tribulations of The Cosmetic Surgeon” published by the British Medical Journal in 1911, the same year Kolle published Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery, most of the content did not offer much new to the medical community in terms of information. The reviewer noted that most of the information can already by found in a published work titled Autoplastics by Ombredanne and Nelaton. However, what the medical community and the reviewers found to be the most interesting about Kolle’s work was the section on double eyelid surgery, with the large majority of people undergoing this procedure belonging to “Asiatic races,” and paraffin injections and hydrocarbon prothesis, which were unrelated to double eyelid surgery but in demand at the time.[ii]

The copy of Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery that I referenced from is from the Leo J. McCarthy, MD, History of Medicine Room and Collection at the Ruth Lilly Medical Library. It is not to say that Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery was an ignored book; however, Kolle was not the first author in medical history to describe cosmetic surgery; closely following Charles Conrad Miller, who published the book The Correction of Featural Imperfections in 1907.[iii]

It is important to remember that Kolle’s work was written as a response to the growing need for more written material on plastic and cosmetic surgery; to create a guide for physicians to reference, to illustrate and inform of proper procedures and basic principles of plastic surgery; but not provide much new or groundbreaking information. Around the time period Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery was published (1911) plastic surgery was an emerging field, as during and after World War I (1914-1918) there was a huge boom and demand for plastic surgery, mostly from soldiers with facial injuries.[iv]

Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery starts off by presenting a brief history of plastic surgery; and is more opinionated than the rest of the book as it is here where Kolle states his opinion on plastic surgery being more than just surgery—“so little is generally known to the surgical profession of the beautiful and practical, not to say graceful, art of plastic or restorative surgery.”[v] The progression of plastic and cosmetic surgery is shown through different key surgeries such as the earliest known rhinoplasties and the first successful documented skin transplants by Szymanowski of Russia.

Throughout the middle half of the book Kolle begins by describing the requirements for operating—describing the ideal operating room for a plastic surgeon and how it should be cleaned, as well as what instruments should be used. Before diving into the different surgeries that Kolle dedicates most of the latter half of the book to, Kolle emphasizes an important section where he discusses the principles of plastic surgery. Kolle states that there are five distinctive methods employed in performing plastic operations: stretching of the margins of the skin, sliding flaps of adjacent skin, twisted pedunculated flaps, implantation of pedunculated flaps by bridging, and transplantation of nonpedunculated flaps or skin grafting.[vi] The later chapters are divided into their specific surgeries such as blepharoplasty, otoplasty, cheiloplasty, stomatoplasty, meloplasty, rhinoplasty, etc.

Kolle ends Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery by touching on a brief section where he mentions electrolysis in dermatology, which is different as compared to the other procedures Kolle mentions. At the beginning of the electrolysis chapter, Kolle prefaces by stating that he assumes the reader of this section would already know the rudiments of electricity and the electric battery. Overall, even though Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery was not a groundbreaking work, it still remains one of the earliest published works on plastic surgery and details different procedures and principles with accompanying illustrations. The book was a good reference for physicians at the time and still remains informative today for those seeking an understanding of plastic surgery in the early twentieth century.[vii]

This post was written for the course HIST H364/H546 The History of Medicine and Public Health (Instructor: Elizabeth Nelson, IUPUI School of Liberal Arts).



[i] Frederick Strange Kolle, Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery (New York; London: D. Appleton and Company, 1911).

[ii] “The Tribulations of The Cosmetic Surgeon,” The British Medical Journal, 2, no. 2644 (Sep. 2, 1911): 507.

[iii] Charles Conrad Miller, The Correction of Facial Imperfections (Chicago: The author, 1907).

[iv] M. Felix Freshwater, “A Critical Comparison of Davis’ Principles of Plastic Surgery with Gillies’ Plastic Surgery of the Face,Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery, no. 64 (2011): 18.

[v] Kolle, Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery, 1.

[vi] Ibid, 79.

[vii] Freshwater, “A Critical Comparison of Davis’ Principles of Plastic Surgery with Gillies’ Plastic Surgery of the Face,” 17-26.


The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Safar Saydshoev