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Harvey Williams Cushing

Harvey Williams Cushing (April 8, 1869 - October 7, 1939) was an American neurosurgeon and a pioneer of brain surgery. He is widely regarded as the greatest neurosurgeon of the 20th century, and often called the "father of modern neurosurgery".


Cushing was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Kirke Cushing, a physician, and Bessie Williams. He was the youngest of ten children. Cushing graduated from Yale, where he was a member of Scroll and Key and Delta Kappa Epsilon, studied medicine at Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1895. He completed his internship at Massachusetts General Hospital and then studied surgery under the guidance of a famous surgeon, William Stewart Halsted, at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore. During his medical career he was a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston and as professor of surgery at the Harvard Medical School. From 1933, until his death, he worked at Yale University School of Medicine. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps as a surgeon with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I.

He married Katharine Stone Crowell on June 10, 1902. They had five children: William Harvey Cushing; Mary Benedict Cushing (who married Vincent Astor and painter James Whitney Fosburgh); Betsey Cushing, wife successively of James Roosevelt and John Hay Whitney; Henry Kirke Cushing; and Babe Paley|Barbara Cushing, socialite wife of Stanley Grafton Mortim]] and William S. Paley.


In the beginning of the 20th century he developed many of the basic surgical techniques for operating on the brain. This established him as one of the foremost leaders and experts in the field. Under his influence neurosurgery became a new and autonomous surgical discipline.


Historical marker at Lake View Cemetery

  • He considerably improved the survival of patients after difficult brain operations for intracranial tumors.
  • He used x-rays to diagnose brain tumors.
  • He used electrical stimuli for study of the human sensory cortex.
  • He played a pivotal role in development of the Bovie electrocautery tool with W.T. Bovie, a physicist.
  • He was the world's leading teacher of neurosurgeons in the first decades of the 20th century.

Arguably, Cushing's greatest contribution came with his introduction to North America of blood pressure measurement. On visiting colleague Scipione Riva-Rocci, an Italian physician, Cushing was astonished at Riva-Rocci's non invasive way to measure intra-arterial pressure. In 1896, Riva-Rocci developed a wall-mounted mercury manometer linked to a baloon-inflated cuff that would measure the pressure needed to compress arterial systolic pressure, what the systolic blood pressure reading is a measurement of. Riva-Rocci's design was based on a more primitive version developed by French physician Pierre Potain. Cushing brought back a sample of Riva-Rocci's sphygmomanomater, and blood pressure measurement became a vital sign and its use spread like wildfire across the US and western world as a direct contribution by Harvey Cushing. Its use remained until Russian physician Nicolai Koratkoff included diastolic blood pressure measurement in 1920 (after he discovered the famed "Koratkoff heart sounds") with his modern sphygmomanometer, which also replaced the mercury manometer with a smaller, round dial manometer.[1]

Cushing's name is commonly associated with his most famous discovery - Cushing's disease. In 1912 he reported in a study an endocrinological syndrome caused by a malfunction of the pituitary gland which he termed "polyglandular syndrome". He published his findings in 1932, as "The Basophil Adenomas of the Pituitary Body and Their Clinical Manifestations pituitary Basophilism). Cushing was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926, for a biography of one of the fathers of modern medicine - Sir William Osler. He died in 1939 in New Haven, Connecticut from complications from a myocardial infarction, and was interred in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

In 1988, the United States Postal Service issued a 45 cent postage stamp in his honor, as part of the Great Americans series.[2]

Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical LibraryEdit

The Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library[3] at Yale University contains extensive collections in the field of medicine and the history of medicine. In 2005, the library released portions of its collection online, including the Peter Parker Collection which consists of a collection of portrait engravings and 83 mid-19th century oil paintings rendered by artist Lam Qua of Chinese tumor patients, and a biography of Harvey Cushing by John F. Fulton.


  1. Salvatore Mangione. Physical Diagnosis Secrets. Hanley & Belfus 2000
  2. Scott catalog # 2188.
  3. Digital Library Collections (Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University) at

See alsoEdit

Sources and External linksEdit

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