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Van Phillips Video Oral History and Papers,
1991-2004

Extent and Forms of Material: 1.35 cubic feet; 3 boxes, 1 oversize folder; 4 Beta Cam SP video cassettes, four 1⁄2” VHS video cassettes and transcript (58 p.)
Creator: Van Phillips and the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation
Abstract: Video oral history interview of Van Phillips, inventor of the Flex-Foot and other innovative prosthetic feet, conducted by Katherine Ott and Maggie Dennis, February 27, 2004, and design drawings and printed materials regarding prosthetic feet by Van Phillips, Hilary D. Pouchak, and Slobodon Djordjevic.
Repository: Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. archivescenter@si.edu 202-633-3270
www.americanhistory.si.edu/archives
Collection Number: AC0859
Processing Note: Processed by Mitch Toda, August 2004; supervised by Alison Oswald, archivist.
© 2006 by the Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.

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Information for users of the collection

Conditions Governing Access: The collection is open for research use.
Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use.
Preferred Citation: [Title and date of item], Van Phillips Oral History and Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number X, folder number XX, digital file number XXXXXXXX

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In-depth information about the collection

Administrative/biographical history
Scope and content
System of arrangement
Acquisition information
Custodial history
Related artifacts
Access points
Container listing

Administrative/biographical history

In 1976, after a waterskiing accident, Van Phillips had his left leg amputated just above the ankle. At the time he was twenty-one years old and a student at Arizona State University studying mass communications and advertising. The accident and his frustration with the prosthetic technology of the time motivated Phillips to switch his studies to prosthetics. He graduated from Arizona State University in 1981.

Phillips' idea of a C-shaped foot emerged from his desire to design a prosthetic that was strong, flexible, and made of light weight materials.

In 1982, while living in Utah and working for the University of Utah’s Center for Biomedical Design, Phillips met Dale Abildskov, an aerospace composite engineer. Using Phillips’ drawings, they called upon an aerospace company to help analyze the performance of carbon fiber material, which at the time was only used for military purposes.

Carbon fiber with its excellent strength and flexible properties was cut into a C-shaped foot, with a sole on the bottom and a prosthetic socket above. With this design, weight applied by landing on the toe was converted into energy thereby simulating the spring action of the normal foot and allowing users to run and jump.

After trying out his new design, Phillips immediately decided to quit his job, develop his design, and start a new company. Flex-Foot Inc. was formed in 1984 and demand for Phillips’ innovative prosthetic feet has increased ever since. While the firm was sold in 2000 to Ossur, a company based in Iceland, Phillips still owns the patent rights to his invention and continues to contribute his ideas and expertise to research and development projects.

The Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation was founded in 1995 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History through a generous gift from the Lemelson Foundation. The Center’s mission is to document, interpret, and disseminate information about invention and innovation; to encourage inventive creativity in young people; and to foster an appreciation for the central role invention and innovation play in the history of the United States. The Innovative Lives series brings together Museum visitors and especially, school age children, and American inventors to discuss inventions and the creative process and to experiment and play with hands-on activities related to each inventor’s product.


Scope and content

This collection consists of a videotaped interview, 2004 and design drawings and printed materials, 1991-2004. Katherine Ott and Maggie Dennis interviewed Phillip’s on February 27, 2004. In the interview Van Phillips talked about his waterskiing accident, his work towards designing his new prosthetic foot, the founding of Flex-Foot Inc., his thoughts about being an amputee, and his feelings towards the patent system and the legal actions he has undertaken to defend his patents. During the the interview Phillips mentioned several people who played key roles in the development of Flex-Foot and who helped bring it into popular culture including: Dale Abildskov, Bob Fosberg, Aimee Mullins, and Dennis Oehler. There is a 58-page transcript of the interview with an index.

The design drawings and printed materials related to several different prosthetic feet: the Vari-Flex; the Sure-Flex; the K2 Sensation; the Delta Foot; the Geri-Flex; the Flex Sprint I, II, and III (Cheetah); the C-Sprint, the Sprint Symes, and the Ski Foot I and II. Additionally there are design drawings for a horse prosthetic foot. The printed materials consist of letters, instructions, and specifications of the Geri-Flex that were sent to Flex-Foot Inc. by prosthetists.


System of arrangement

Series 1: Video Oral History
Series 2: Design Drawings and Printed Materials


Acquisition information

This collection was created in conjunction with a public program titled “Artificial Parts” and the Innovative Lives Program of The Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. The Innovative Lives series brings young people and American inventors together to discuss inventions and the creative process and to experiment and play with hands-on activities related to each inventor’s product.


Custodial history

The collection was transferred to the Archives Center on March 9, 2004. The papers were donated by Ossur North America, the company which bought Phillips’ company, on November 11, 2003.


Related artifacts

The National Museum of American History, Division of Science, Medicine, and Society, has in its collections these objects acquired from Ossur North America on January 7, 2004 (Accession #2003.0315):

Flex Walk II with Pump (Catalog #2002.0315.01)
Air-Flex w/Split-Toe (Catalog #2002.0315.02)
Vari-Flex (Catalog #2002.0315.03)
Flex-Foot (Catalog #2002.0315.04)
Flex-Walk II (Catalog #2002.0315.05)
Modular Flex-Foot (Catalog #2002.0315.06)
Modular III (Catalog #2002.0315.07)
Allurion w/Split Toe (Catalog #2002.0315.08)
Low Profile Symes w/Split Toe (Catalog #2002.0315.09)
Flex-Foot Symes (Prototype) Catalog #2002.0315.10
Re-Flex VSP (Catalog #2002.0315.11)
Re-Flex w/Split-Toe (Catalog #2002.0315.12)
Sure-Flex with Cosmetic Foot Cover (Catalog #2002.0315.13)
Talux Product Prototype #9 (Catalog #2002.0315.14)
Talux Prototype (Catalog #2002.0315.15)
Talux Prototype (Catalog #2002.0315.16)
Air-Flex Prototype (Catalog #2002.0315.17)
Flex-Sprint III (Catalog #2002.0315.18)
Endoskeleton Connector (Catalog #2002.0315.19)


Access points

Subjects/Topical:
Prosthesis
Inventors
Inventions

Subjects/Names:
Djordjevic, Slobodon (creator)
Pouchak, Hilary D. (creator)
Flex-Foot, Inc.
Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center

Form/Genre:
Videotapes -- 2000-2010
Design drawings
Oral history -- 2000-2010
Interviews -- 2000-2010


Container listing

Box Folder  
    SERIES 1: VIDEO ORAL HISTORY, 2004
1 OV 859.1
Van Phillips Video History Interview, February 27, 2004
Total Running Time: 32:30
Maggie Dennis and Katherine Ott interview of Van Phillips, topics discussed: his life as a father; a desire to create a Landmine Foot; his early disdain for the Flex-Foot; the brainstorming process with partners about the design of prosthetic feet; his work at Flex-Foot Inc. and the frustrations he experienced with the science advisory board; his appreciation of creativity and how ideas come to him; the founding of Flex-Foot Inc.; his partners Dale Abildskov and Bob Fosberg; the decision to sell the company to Ossur; and how he ended up at the University of Utah's Center for Biomedical Design.
  OV 859.2
Van Phillips Video History Interview, February 27, 2004
Total Running Time: 30:15
Continuing discussion of his work at the Center for Biomedical Design for Jan Secosa; working on his prosthetic foot designs on the weekend; problems with various materials and the toes of the feet always breaking; the overall development of his prosthetic foot design; setting up his apartment to fabricate prototypes; calling companies to get free samples of materials; differences between bolted and bonded feet; how his energy idea was born; his own use of prosthetic feet such as the Sach Foot and the Greisinger Foot; the Seattle Foot prosthetic foot that was similar in concept to Phillips; and the benefits of the split toe design.
  OV 859.3
Van Phillips Video History Interview, February 27, 2004
Total Running Time: 28:20
In this portion of the interview, Phillips talks about his amputation surgery and a subsequent surgery (Ertl technique) 10 years later to correct the first amputation; being able to finally use his own foot designs because it no longer hurt his stump to do so; his experiences with the patent system and the toll litigation takes defending his patents; working with Aimee Mullins and Dennis Oehler; the rise of the sprint leg in popular culture; and his thoughts and opinions about people with disabilities and the culture that surrounds them.
  OV 859.4
Van Phillips Video History Interview, February 27, 2004
Total Running Time: 27:30
Phillips discusses the differences between amputees and wheelchair bound individuals; his feelings about his disability; life before his waterskiing accident; the future of prosthetic technology; powered prosthetic feet; the C-leg; osseo-integration; and gives advice to new amputees.
2 RV 859.1-4 Reference Copy Videos of the Van Phillips Video History Interview, February 27, 2004 (OV 859.1-4)
  1 Transcript of Van Phillips Video History Interview, February 27, 2004, includes index (58 pages)
    SERIES 2: DESIGN DRAWINGS AND PRINTED MATERIALS, 1991-2002
3 1 Design drawings for prosthetic foot, the Vari-Flex, by Van Phillips, October 1990 (4 drawings)
  2 Design drawings for prosthetic foot, alternate style of the Sure-Flex known as the Nipple Foot, by Hilary D. Pouchak, February 1994 - June 1994 (12 drawings)
  3 Design drawings for prosthetic foot, the Phoenix Foot later known as the K2 Sensation, by Hilary D. Pouchak and Slobodon Djordjevic, April 1998 - May 1998 (13 drawings)
  4 Design drawings for horse prosthetic foot, the Barnaby, by Hilary D. Pouchak, April 2002 (4 drawings)
  5 Design drawings for prosthetic foot, the Delta Foot (never made it to market), by Hilary D. Pouchak, July 1995 (12 drawings)
  6 Design drawings by Slobodon Djordjevic, November 1999 - July 2000 (10 drawings)
3 7 Design drawings for prosthetic foot, the first prototype of the Air Bladder Foot or Geri-Flex (never made it to market), by Hilary D. Pouchak, July 1991 - December 1992 (10 drawings and printed documents: letter and instructions regarding the Geri-Flex to prosthetist)
  8 Design drawings for prosthetic foot, the second prototype of the Geri-Flex, by Hilary D. Pouchak, December 1992 - March 1993 (27 drawings, 3 printed documents: letter, instructions, and specifications regarding the Geri-Flex to prosthetist)
  9 Design drawings for prosthetic foot, the Flex Sprint I, II, and III (Cheetah), the C-Sprint, and the Sprint Symes, by Hilary D. Pouchak, October 1991 - March 2002 (24 drawings)
  10 Design drawings for prosthetic foot, the Ski Leg I and II, by Hilary D. Pouchak, March 1997 - February 1998 (9 drawings)

 

 

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Last Update: 16 Nov 2006

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