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Artificial leg made for a child, England, 1903

What do you do if you lose a leg but no artificial ones are available? Until well into the 20th century, many people could not afford one. They either relied on charity or their ingenuity. They often improvised with whatever materials they could find. This artificial limb was made in 1903 in the shipyard at Blyth, Northumbria, England by the father of a three year-old boy who lost his right leg below the knee. Artificial limbs are very personal items. Extensive home repairs show the lengths some people go to keep a limb they feel comfortable with. This leg seems well used because the base is worn down and home repairs have been made. The leg was probably made from a chair or table leg and reinforced with a metal ‘sleeve’. In England today, hi-tech prosthetic limbs have replaced wooden ‘peg legs’ of the past.

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Glossary: prostheses

Artificial body parts, or materials inserted into tissue for functional, cosmetic, or therapeutic effect. Prostheses can be functional (artificial arms and legs), or cosmetic (artificial eye).

Glossary: artificial leg

A device, either external or implanted, that substitutes for or supplements a missing or defective part of the body.