Remembering the “mender of men” and a pioneering industry

The holiday season invariably brings the news meant to stir emotions. Many people cannot get enough stories about human kindness, generosity […]

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The holiday season invariably brings the news meant to stir emotions. Many people cannot get enough stories about human kindness, generosity and giving. 

Those long-ago media accounts, while prepared with the best of intentions, often contain language readers cringe at today. The December 25, 1943 Minneapolis Star brought readers the story of young Richard Healy. The 13-year-old, described in the headline as a “crippled child,” was given a new wheelchair. The gift was a tradition of Ray Trautman, president of the Minneapolis Artificial Limb Company. 

The article told readers that every year at Christmas, Trautman gave a wheelchair to the “crippled person whose case is adjudged neediest and most worthwhile in Minneapolis.” 

Healy was nominated for the gift by the charity Crippled Child Relief. Inc. He attended Minneapolis’ Dowling School for Crippled Children, was active in Boy Scouts and enjoyed summer camp. His family’s letter of thanks stated, “We all want to thank you for the wheelchair you gave Dick. He enjoys it so much. We are able to take him out a great deal more now. The chair rides so easily.” 

The greater gift to note is that the Minneapolis Artificial Limb Company was just part of a long tradition of Minnesota manufacturers of prosthetic devices. 

The lumber, grain milling and farming industries of 19th century Minnesota, coupled with wartime injuries and disabling illnesses, brought a great need for what where then called artificial limbs. Manufacturers opened their doors starting in the 1860s. 

Trautman founded his company in 1914. It was one of several Minnesota companies that served people in need of such accommodations. The company’s contract with the U.S. military and its self-promotion meant that Trautman was known as the “mender of men.” 

The Minneapolis Artificial Limb Company motto was “Hope, happiness through encouragement.” 
The company was one of five U.S. companies with a contract to manufacture prosthetic devices for wounded war veterans. Wood rationing during wartime meant the company had to switch the plastics and metals for their products. 

Ray Trautman and his son Lucius ran the company for many years. Lucius made many pioneering innovations to prosthetic devices. 

The Trautmans as business owners were very progressive for their times. They made a point of hiring people with disabilities to make and sell their products. They also were known for their generosity to the Black community. 

Ray Trautman was an active Methodist and civic leader, and a popular speaker. “Unhandicapping the handicapped” was a frequent speech topic. 

Their company overcame a 1940s price fixing scandal and continued to prosper. Ray Trautman died in 1955. Lucius died in 1970. In 1995 the Minneapolis Artificial Limb Company merged with Milwaukee-based Acme Laboratories inc. to become ACTRA Rehabilitation Associates. 

And what became of that young man whose 1943 Christmas was made merrier with the gift of a wheelchair? Richard Healy died in 1949, at age 19. 

Read a MnOpedia article about the history of artificial limbs at Artificial Limb Industry in Minneapolis.

A KFAI Radio interview with a Trautman grandson can be found at The Minneapolis Artificial Limb Company.

The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at www.mnddc.org 

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