Find thousands of books, manuscripts, visual materials and unpublished archives from our collections, many of them with free online access.

The mechanical substitute for the arms, United Kingdom, 1919

  • Science Museum, London
  • Digital Images
  • Online

Available online

view The mechanical substitute for the arms, United Kingdom, 1919


Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
You can use this work for any purpose, including commercial uses, without restriction under copyright law. You should also provide attribution to the original work, source and licence.
Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) terms and conditions
Credit: The mechanical substitute for the arms, United Kingdom, 1919. Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Selected images from this work

About this work


These tools and other materials are associated with an invention known as the mechanical substitute for the arms. It was designed and made during the First World War by George Thomson, a Scottish gas fitter. It is an example of one of many technological solutions suggested by members of the public to challenges arising out of the war. Thomson’s invention was made for men who had lost both arms at the shoulders, an extremely rare injury even among the 41,000 British servicemen who lost one or more limbs during the First World War. For a small number, their injuries were so severe that there was no limb stump left on which to attach a functioning artificial limb. A number of tools, including cutlery, a cup holder and scissors were clipped on to a mechanical arm, which was then attached to an ordinary dining table. The user could operate the arm and tools with foot pedals placed underneath. As well as feeding himself, the trained user could type, write with a modified fountain pen, cut with a knife and scissors and strike a match to light a cigarette. The sheet shows typing and a book contains writing samples from a man using the mechanical arm at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, England – the hospital was founded in 1915 to provide wounded servicemen with prosthetic limbs. maker: Unknown maker Place made: United Kingdom

Permanent link