From sealing wax to bone wax: predecessors to Horsley's development.

Gaurav Gupta, Charles J. Prestigiacomo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


OBJECT: Writers of neurosurgical history have traditionally maintained that the initial use of cranial bone wax for hemostasis in humans was developed and promoted by Sir Victor Horsley, the father of British neurosurgery. A thorough literature review, however, suggests that the use of bone wax for cranial bone hemostasis had its roots more than 50 years before Dr. Horsley's description in 1892. In this study the authors review the sources addressing this issue and establish due credit to the surgeons using bone wax for cranial bone hemostasis before Horsley. METHODS: Primary and secondary general surgery and neurosurgery literature from 1850 to the present was comprehensively reviewed. The key words used in the literature searchers were "bone wax," "sealing wax," "cranial surgery," "Victor Horsley," "hemostasis," and "bone hemostasis." RESULTS: Although Dr. Horsley's description in 1892 clearly delineates the necessary formula for creating a soft, malleable, nonbrittle wax that would easily promote hemostasis, the literature suggests that sealing wax was commonly used as early as 1850 for hemostasis in cranial bones. Even though there is documentation that Magendie (1783-1855) used wax to occlude venous sinuses in animals, detailed documentation of the constituents are not available. Evidence reveals that surgeons like Henri Ferdinand Dolbeau (1840-1877), professor of external pathology and the surgical clinic (1868-1872) at the Paris hospitals, used bone wax in 1864 for the extirpation of a frontal osteoma/exostoses of the frontal sinus. CONCLUSIONS: The use of bone wax in cranial surgery was described by Henri Ferdinand Dolbeau, 50 years prior to Sir Victor Horsley's report in 1892. Nonetheless, it was Horsley who advocated and popularized its use in neurological surgery as an additional tool in the hemostatic and surgical armamentarium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E16
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology

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