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  Design: If it Looks like a Leg...      

Inventors must always consider whether to imitate the human form or ignore appearances and try to capture human function. Limbs and hands that look like the real thing have the advantage of being less noticeable or provocative to onlookers. But designs that move beyond actual physical form and re-create bodily function in startling and creative ways may be more efficient and durable and less fatiguing to use.

Photograph of Van Philips running on beach
Learn more about Van Phillips, inventor of the Flex-Foot.

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  19th Century      
Photograph of arm with grabber, articulated wooden hand, and articulated wooden hand for a woman   Photograph of peg-leg patent model and drawing of artificial legs
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Arm with grabber, made from a rifle stock, early 19th century
Articulated (jointed) wooden hand, 19th century
Articulated wooden hand for a woman, 19th century

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Peg-leg patent model, 1872
Drawing of artificial legs, from Condell's Artificial Limbs, 1897

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  20th Century  
Photograph of split-hook hand, demonstration hand, and jointed latex hand   Photograph of male leg with shoe and sock, sprinter's carbon leg, and flex-foot with shock absorber
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Split-hook hand, 1970s
Demonstration hand, with open back to show the mechanism, 1970s
Jointed latex hand, 1970s

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Male leg with shoe and sock, 1970s
Sprinterís carbon-fiber leg, invented by Van Phillips, 1990s
Flex-Foot, and shock absorber, invented by Van Phillips, late 1990s

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    Related Resources  
    Soldiers visit the museum to demonstrate their prosthetic hands  
    Innovative Lives with Van Phillips  

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