Phineas Gage

Phineas P. Gage (July 9?, 1823 – May 21, 1860) was an American railroad construction foreman now remembered for his improbable survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain’s left frontal lobe, and for that injury’s reported effects on his personality and behavior – effects so profound that friends saw him as “no longer Gage”.

Portrait of Gage, here with his inscribed tamping iron (wikipedia)

On September 13, 1848, 25-year-old Gage was foreman of a work gang blasting rock while preparing the roadbed for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad outside the town of Cavendish, Vermont. After a hole was bored into a body of rock, one of Gage’s duties was to add blasting powder, a fuse, and sand, then compact the charge into the hole using a tamping iron – a large iron rod. Possibly because the sand was omitted, around 4:30 PM:

the powder exploded, carrying an instrument through his head an inch and a fourth in [diameter], and three feet and [seven] inches in length, which he was using at the time. The iron entered on the side of his face…passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head.

Long called “the American Crowbar Case” – once termed “the case which more than all others is calculated to excite our wonder, impair the value of prognosis, and even to subvert our physiological doctrines”– Phineas Gage influenced 19th-century discussion about the brain, particularly debate on cerebral localization, and was perhaps the first case suggesting that damage to specific regions of the brain might affect personality and behavior. (wikipedia)

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