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Department of Surgery records

Identifier: ua-01007

Scope and content note

The Department of Surgery records are primarily arranged alphabetically by name, organization, or topic. The collection dates from the time period in which Dr. Owen H. Wangensteen served as chair; therefore, the collection consists primarily of professional correspondence and memos by Dr. Wangensteen, and little to no materials from previous and later chairs is included. In addition to the correspondence and memos, activities documented in the collection include fundraising for University facilities and Base Hospital 26, relationships with professional organizations including the American Cancer Society and American Board of Surgery, and materials regarding the use of laboratory animals for research.


  • Creation: 1927-1968

Language of Materials

Collection materials in English

Use of materials:

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law Title 17, U.S. Code. Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Historical Note

The Department of Surgery was established in 1904 under the direction of James E. Moore 1904-1919. Arthur C. Strachauer who headed the department until 1925 succeeded him. Owen H. Wangensteen assumed the responsibilities for the department in 1926 although he did not officially receive the appointment until 1930. Very few documents exist for the early years of the department. It was not until 1941 that correspondence files were retained.

Owen Harding Wangensteen was born on a farm near Lake Park, Minnesota on September 21, 1898. Although he enjoyed farming, his father urged him to go to Medical School. He entered the University of Minnesota and received his medical degree in 1922 and a Ph.D. in 1925. Until he was appointed head of the Surgery Department he studied surgery in Switzerland in 1927 and 1928.

Wangensteen established a flexible program of training for surgeons that involved 1 to 3 years of training in the laboratory where research skills were developed. Creativity and innovation was encouraged as Wangensteen was keenly interested in developing new methods and better surgical tools.

During Wangensteen's administration, affiliations were formed with a number of local hospitals. This enabled him to expose his students to a broader range of surgical experience than could be given at University Hospital as well as accommodate more interns. The head of surgery in each hospital held a faculty position. These affiliations included the Veterans' Hospital, Mount Sinai, and Ancker Hospital.

Primarily a gastrointestinal surgeon, the collection most thoroughly documents his research efforts such as the Wangensteen gastric tube and the use of gastric hypothermia to treat peptic ulcers. During the period, cancer patients relied on surgery as a treatment for tumors. Wangensteen performed or directed a number of radical operations for cancer including the "second look" program in which a patient would undergo a second operation after a period of years to determine if the cancer was gone. Wangensteen established one of the early cancer detection centers at the University in 1947.

An ongoing concern of Wangensteen and his colleagues was the extent to which surgeons could treat private patients in the University Hospital. The hospital was established for those who would be otherwise unable to pay for their treatment. The extent to which surgeons and other doctors could treat patients was a problem to which the Medical School gave a great deal of attention and policy was created to deal with the matter. The Baker Fund was set up as the means to collect private practice medical fees and make them available for research projects.

The most remarkable work done during this period was in cardiac surgery. C. Walton Lillehei did the first successful open heart surgery in 1952. Clarence Dennis, who developed the heart-lung machine, and Richard DeWall, who invented the bubble oxygenerator, were other members of the team. One of Lillehei's students, Christian Barnard, performed the first heart transplant.

Owen H. Wangensteen retired as Head of Surgery in 1967. A few years before his retirement Wangensteen contracted a debilitating disorder that ended his ability to do surgery. With the assistance of his wife, Sarah Sally, he developed his strong interest in the history of medicine. Through his interest and energy the History of Medicine Collection in the Bio-Medical Library was established and a chair was created for a Professorship in the History of Medicine.

Surgical education was established at the University of Minnesota in 1888, with the formation of the Department of Medicine. Dr. Perry Millard was the first dean of the Department of Medicine, until his death in 1897. The Deparment of Surgery was established in 1906, within the Collge of Medicine and Surgery. Dr. James E. Moore was the first chair of the Department of Surgery. Moore died in 1918, to be replaced by Dr. Arthur Strachauer. Strachauer resigned in 1925, but returned as temporary chair while Dr. Owen H. Wangensteen was prepared to lead the department. Wangensteen was officially appointed as chair in 1930. Wangensteen expanded the Department of Surgery, developing new and innovative techniques in general surgery, cancer treatment, and heart surgery. Wangensteen retired in 1967, being replaced by Dr. John Najarian. Under Najarian's leadership, the Department of Surgery became a leader in organ transplants. In addition, the department serves a leader in bariatric surgery, colorectal surgery, pediatric surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and vascular surgery.

The University of Minnesota's Department of Surgery faculty and staff have developed and implemented many firsts in the field of surgery, including:

  1. First open-heart operation 1952, Dr. F. John Lewis
  2. First jejunoileal bypass 1953, Dr. Richard Varco
  3. First use of cross-circulation 1954, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei
  4. First pancreas transplant 1966, Drs. Richard C. Lillehi and William D. Kelly
  5. First simultaneous kidney-pancreas transplant 1966
  6. First kidney transplant in a patient with diabetes 1968
  7. First transplant of a partial pancreas using a living related donor 1978
  8. First kidney-bowel transplant 1997

Chair's of the department of surgery: Dr. James E. Moore 1904-1918, Dr. Arthur Strachauer 1919-1925, Dr. Owen H. Wangensteen 1930-1967, Dr. John Najarian 1967-1993, Dr. Frank Cerra 1994-1995, Dr. David Dunn 1995-2005. Dr. Selwyn Vickers 2006-present


46.25 Cubic Feet (37 boxes)


The collections of primarily correspondence files were compiled during the period when Owen Harding Wangensteen was head of the Department of Surgery, 1941-1967. During Wangensteen's administration, advances were made in cancer treatment, open heart surgery, and treatment of stomach ulcers. The collection also documents Wangensteen's fund raising efforts for support of Base Hospital 26 during World War II, construction of Diehl Hall, building the book and journal collections for the Bio-Medical Library, History of Medicine Professorship, and providing funding to build the Wangensteen Library of the History of Medicine.

Organization and arrangement:

Materials in the collection are primarily arranged alphabetically by name, organization, or topic.

Source of acquisition:

Transferred to University of Minnesota Archives from the Department of Surgery during the 1960s.

Related Material in University Archives:

Owen H. Wangensteen papers

Processing information:

Collection processed by Penelope Krosch.


Department of Surgery Records, 1927-1968
Penelope Krosch
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area