William T. Bovie (1882-1958)


William T. Bovie --  inventor, botanist, and  biophysicist,  was born on September 11, 1882 in Augusta, Michigan.  He is best known for his collaboration with Dr. Harvey Cushing in developing the modern day electrosurgical knife, which brought on the age of "bloodless surgery" by allowing a surgeon to both cut and coagulate tissue.   The first Bovie machine was used  on October 1, 1926 at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts by Dr. Cushing to aid in the removal of a highly vascular tumor from a patient's head.  In Cushing's note, he remarked that "with Dr. Bovie's help I proceeded to take off most satisfactorily the remaining portion of tumor with practically one of the bleeding which was occasioned in the preceding operation."

An early floor model Bovie cutting/coagulation apparatus.  Photo courtesy of the electrotherapymuseum.com:



     Bovie never profited from his invention.  He sold his patent for one dollar to the Liebel-Flarsheim Company, which proceeded to manufacture the unit for use in other hospitals.   As you can see from Bovie's patent sketch, the original "bovie" actually had a pistol grip design.

     Bovie is also known for his experiments with radium in the treatment of cancer.   Because of his exposure to radium, Bovie lost a finger and suffered from pain in his hands for the rest of his life.  He died in Fairfield, Maine on January 1, 1958. 

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