Our History

Orthopaedic surgery has a rich heritage at the University of Minnesota, dating back to the founding of the Medical School in 1888 when James E. Moore, MD, was the first professor of orthopaedic surgery.

In 1897, Arthur Gillette, MD, assumed his duties as clinical professor and director of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Minnesota. Gillette also established the first State Crippled Children’s Hospital in 1897, which became Gillette Children’s Hospital (GCH)—an ongoing and vital part of orthopaedic education and patient care throughout the 20th century. Upon the death of Arthur Gillette, Emil Geist, MD, became the director of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery in 1921.

Wallace Cole, MD, became director of the division at the University in 1933 upon the death of Dr. Geist. Dr. Cole was also the chief surgeon at the Minneapolis Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children, founded in 1923. He provided orthopaedic leadership at Gillette Children's Hospital along with Carl Chatterton. The orthopaedic surgery residency started in 1939 with Harry Hall, MD, as the first Cole Fellow at the University of Minnesota.

After World War II, the orthopaedic residency was reorganized into two programs, one based at the University as a Division of General Surgery under Dr. Cole, and one at the Veterans Hospital under the direction of Edward Evans, MD. Upon Dr. Cole’s retirement in 1956, Leonard Peltier, MD, served six months as the acting director of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, and was formally replaced by John Moe, MD, as professor and director of the residency at the University in 1957. Dr. Moe also became chief of staff at Gillette Children's Hospital in 1958.

Robert Premer, MD, became the director of orthopaedics at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in 1960, and guided their residency program in the Twin Cities. Residents in both programs received fracture training at the Minneapolis General Hospital or Ancker Hospital in St. Paul. They were supervised by community faculty until 1968 when the era of full time chiefs of orthopaedic services began with Tom Comfort, MD, at St. Paul Ramsey, and Ramon Gustilo, MD, at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).

In 1969, the division became an independent Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University with John Moe, MD, as professor and chairman. Educational experience for residents continued at six hospitals, with the introduction of subspecialty experiences and additions of key faculty. The John Moe Spine Fellows program was established in 1971, and Dr. Moe chose to retire after serving as the president of the American Orthopaedic Association in 1972. James House, MD, became interim chair of orthopaedic surgery until the appointment of Roby Thompson Jr., MD, as professor and department chair in 1974.

Dr. Thompson’s background as a talented scientist and clinician, and his initiative in establishing academic research leaders, became a major turning point in the department's role locally and nationally. He furthered the educational mission of the department, and in cooperation with the other program leaders, encouraged orthopaedic research that added immensely to the academic stature of what was already a strong clinical training program. Numerous key additions of faculty took place during this time. The department partnered with Ramon Gustilo, MD, and Richard Kyle, MD, and established the Biomechanics Lab at HCMC. Ted Oegema, PhD, and Jack Lewis, PhD, both engineers, further enhanced the national recognition of the program and attracted significant research funding.

A Fellowship in Sports Medicine was established in 1984 with Elizabeth Arendt, MD, as the first fellow. The University and VAMC residency programs merged in 1988, and the spirit of cooperation of the faculty at the six institutions has provided a well-balanced environment for a comprehensive education in orthopaedic surgery and its subspecialties.