Important update:

On June 23, 2016 we took Phineas Gage to the Warren Anatomical Museum, Harvard Medical Library
in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts where he will be reunited with his skull and tamping iron. Although we have enjoyed our 40+ years as his custodians we believe he is so important to the history of medicine that he is better in their care.


On the right is a daguerreotype that was in our collection of over 30 years. It is the first identified photograph of the famous patient, Phineas P. Gage, holding his well-known tamping iron. On this site you can read about its transformation from an unidentified daguerreotype in our collection to what is certainly a photograph of Gage.

Jack and Beverly Wilgus

On this page we will give only a brief recap of the Phineas Gage story. To learn more about his life after the accident and his place in medical history, visit our page More about Gage to read an article by Malcolm Macmillan, the leading authority on Gage. The Links & Bibliography page will give you a small sampling of the many publications and web sites about Gage. The Gage & Popular Culture page will celebrate some of the less serious aspects of the Gage cult.

Gage -A Brief Recap:
On September 13, 1848 Gage was a 25 year old foreman of a blasting crew preparing a railroad bed outside Cavendish, Vermont. He used his 3 foot 7 inches, 13 1/4 pound iron rod to tamp gunpowder and sand into a hole in the rock. On this day something went horribly wrong. The rod striking the stone caused a spark and the resulting explosion sent the rod flying up and through his left cheek and out the top of his head. To the amazement of everyone he was not killed and lived for more than eleven years.


Phineas P. Gage 1823-1860

Sixth plate (2 3/4" x 3 1/4" or 7 x 8 cm) cased daguerreotype of Gage in the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus. The image has been laterally reversed to show the features correctly since daguerreotypes are mirror images. (Photograph of daguerreotype by Jack Wilgus)

See the note below for information on usage.




The start of our journey of discovery with Gage:

Over 30 years ago we added this daguerreotype to a growing photographic collection. More than 100 daguerreotypes later we have no record of its acquisition but it has always been one of our favorites. It has had a spot in the display case with a select group of daguerreotypes. During all those years it was never cycled into a storage drawer as many of the others have been.

We gave it a name and had a story we told about it. We called it "The Whaler" because we thought the pole he held was part of a harpoon. His left eye (we have flipped the picture since the daguerreotype is a laterally-reversed mirror image) is closed so we invented an encounter with an angry whale that left him with one eye stitched shut.

We would still be telling that story if it had not been posted on our flickr daguerreotype set. It got some attention and comment from members of the whaling group. The consensus was that it was a wonderful image but he was not holding a harpoon. We then had a comment* that turned the disappointment to excitement, "...maybe you found a photo of Phineas Gage? If so, it would be the only one known." Who was Gage and was this his picture? We Googled the name and got over 80,000 hits. We went to the internet and began to read. If you are also intrigued by his story, we suggest you start with the article More about Gage that was prepared for us by the Malcolm Macmillan.The Links & Bibliography page will give you a start on the vast amount of information and speculation on Gage.

The author of the flickr comment has introduced himself. He is Michael Spurlock, a self-described history buff. Thank you Michael for starting us out on this path.

You are invited to come along on our journey of discovery on the Finding Phineas page.



Since the daguerreotype now belongs to the Warren Anatomical Museum we will no longer be able to license its use or supply high resolution images. Contact the Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard for information.