Inside the Collection

Esmarch Triangular Bandage

Esmarch triangular bandage
Collection, Powerhouse Museum.

When I came across the Esmarch triangular bandage in my research, I was immediately drawn to the line (After Esmarch).

Esmarch triangular bandage detail
Collection, Powerhouse Museum.

Was it a person, place or manufacturer? And why was the bandage after Esmarch? To my delight, I discovered Esmarch was a person.

Today, a bandage seems like a normal thing for one to encounter in a first aid kit. This was not always the case. The triangular bandage is attributed to Johann Friedrich August von Esmarch. Esmarch was born 1823, a German surgeon who specialized in trauma and military medicine. During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-1871, he became the Surgeon General. War fare technology was evolving in the Franco-Prussian war, but trauma medicine was lagging. Esmarch recommended that it become mandatory for first aid kits to be carried by every soldier on the battle field. He was among the first to push for the teaching of first aid to all people, not just medical professionals.

Illustration of ways to apply the bandage
Collection, Powerhouse Museum.

This enabled soldiers to perform triage on the battle field. Esmarch made great progress in tourniqueting and the use of a triangular bandage. Also called the Esmarch bandage, the triangular bandage is a versatile tool. It can wrap sprains, bone breaks, and be used to stop bleeding as a tourniquet. The triangular bandage is printed with instructional drawings for users to bind limbs adequately until trained medical professionals are able to attend to the injured. This design was adopted by St. John Ambulance.

Michelle Reguly

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