1981: Computer Makes Mayo’s Collection of Medical Art Available to World #ThrowbackThursday

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A splenectomy drawing done about 1910.

In 1981, Mayo Clinic's huge collection of original medical art, a treasure of information but to this point largely a hidden treasure, was opened up to the medical world by a computer.

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Myrtle Bard, secretary in Medical Graphics, files one of the more than 60,000 pieces of medical art in the Mayo collection.

At this time in history, Mayo’s collection was perhaps the most extensive in the world, containing more than 60,000 anatomical, surgical, and pathological drawings done by medical artists here since 1903. The drawings were used in medicine to visually interpret or communicate complex procedures and difficult to explain phenomena.

Use of the collection had been limited up to this point because information on what was available in it could be gotten only by a time-consuming manual search of a card file index. To allow the collection to be instantly accessible, the information was entered into a computer.

According to Robert Benassi, head of Medical Graphics in 1981, a study done in 1980 indicated that about 150 to 300 drawings were being reused from the files every month. He expected this number to increase by many times with the new system.

Mr. Benassi said that although many of the drawings in the file are old, in many cases they are still useful. “Anatomy hasn’t changed over the years,” he said. To illustrate his point he pulled from his file a recent request for a drawing done about 1910 for Dr. William Mayo.

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Alyssa Frank

Alyssa Frank is a Marketing Associate at Mayo Medical Laboratories. She supports marketing strategies for product management and specialty testing. Alyssa has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2015.