Portrait of a Fellow: Chevalier Jackson

Greetings and salutations, fellow historico-medico aficionados. Today’s installment is the second in a series we are calling “Portrait of a Fellow,” where we introduce you to notable medical professionals who make up our esteemed body of Fellows of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The first article in this series highlighted noted physician and civil rights activist Nathan Francis Mossell. Today, we welcome another guest author to make you better acquainted with another of our past Fellows. I turn the floor over to Xavier Gavin, one of our dedicated team of Mütter Museum docents and an alum of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. He is here to talk about noted otolaryngologist Chevalier Jackson. 

Take it away, Xavier!

The Chevalier Jackson collection is a large assortment of objects that were once swallowed by people accidentally. The collection has over 2000 objects, most of which are on display inside of the staircase in drawers on the lower level in the Mütter Museum. The objects range from pins, to buttons, to animal bones, to Cracker Jack figures, and so on.

Swallowed Objects from the Chevalier Jackson Collection, College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Swallowed Objects from the Chevalier Jackson Collection, College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Chevalier Jackson was born in Pittsburgh in 1865. Jackson’s childhood was full of trouble and trauma. He was bullied in school continuously because of his sensitive demeanor and small stature; once, bullies threw him into an abandoned mine. However, as a child, he always seemed to be drawn to statistics and recording information. When he became interested in skating, he recorded his falls and casualties for reference, which may have helped lead to his interest in records and the like for a future career. Later he worked with pipes and plumbing, inspiring his future endeavors in developing medical tools.

Jackson attended Western University of Pennsylvania, now known as the University of Pittsburgh. While in college, Jackson dabbled in art, specifically that of decorating glasses and china. This side work helped him support his family, pay for his medical school, and helped him cultivate his illustrating skills, which he later put to use when illustrating his techniques in bronchoscopy, helping further his goal of educating others in the field.


Jackson earned public recognition through his work as an otolaryngologist, more commonly known as an ear nose and throat specialist. This field was still relatively new in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the time when Jackson was practicing. It was during this period that he started collecting swallowed objects he extracted from patients. Jackson created and tended to this collection in order to help educate doctors on the field and to let them know more about what to expect in the field. Jackson never charged a patient any money for extracting an object. All he asked was that he could keep the object for his records. In 1924, Jackson donated his collection of swallowed objects and records to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Safety pins are probably the most abundant type of object in the collection. It was likely such a commonly swallowed object because seamstresses would hold pins in their mouths, or parents would hold them in their mouths while changing a baby’s diaper, or babies removed them from their diapers. Jackson was said to be even good enough at this craft of removing objects to push a pin down into the stomach where there’s more room, close it, and then safely extract it without puncturing anything vital.

X-ray showing safety pin and button in a 10-day-old infant’s airway, 1934, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

X-ray showing safety pin and button in a 10-day-old infant’s airway, 1934, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Jackson’s accomplishments earned him the nickname the “father of laryngoscopy.” In addition to his swallowed objects collection, Jackson invented a special tool called a laryngoscope. Jackson’s laryngoscope included a light he used to see into a patient’s throat as well as a long pair of tweezers with clamps on the end to grab the object. Jackson also had a doll named Michelle made so he could practice the procedure on something human-like and teach others his methods for extracting objects swallowed by children.

Chevalier Jackson demonstrating Michelle the Choking Doll, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Chevalier Jackson demonstrating Michelle the Choking Doll, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Jackson is also credited with campaigning for proper labeling and classification of anything containing poison. In all of the procedures of removing swallowed objects he endured, Jackson noticed various burns and injuries due to children consuming lye and other poisonous substances. Jackson realized this was a common problem due to the lack of essential warnings on packages or any federal regulation of hazardous substances. Jackson held countless meetings, presentations, and lectures, and his efforts eventually led to the creation of the Federal Caustic Poison Act  in 1925.

Chevalier Jackson has many achievements to his name. Whether people realize it or not, his work is extremely vital to the safety of people of all ages and the advancement of this particular field in medicine. His work goes much further than just what you see in those drawers.

Thanks for the article, Xavier! If you’d like to see the Chevalier Jackson collection for yourself, it is on display (along with lots of other interesting items from the history of medicine) here at the Mütter Museum!

CEPI Curiosities: Chevalier Jackson Chewed Up and Spit Out

CEPI Curiosities: Tales from Medical History's Strange Side

Welcome again, fellow historico-medico philes for the latest installment of CEPI Curiosities. This time around, we round out our series of guest-authored pieces with Karabots Junior Fellows intern Paul Robbins’ third and final post. If you haven’t seen his previous two articles on Chang and Eng and FOP (fibrodisplasia ossificans progressiva), I recommend you go and do that. In the meantime, here’s Paul’s take on Chevalier Jackson and his collection of swallowed objects.

Chevalier Jackson was born on November 4, 1865, in Pittsburgh, PA. He was a Philadelphia otolaryngologist and a Fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Chevalier Jackson created a method to remove swallowed objects from the human lungs. He is most known for his collection of swallowed objects gathered over a career that continued for almost 75 years. Dr. Jackson’s collection includes 2,374 swallowed objects.


Dr. Chevalier Jackson

It was said that Chevalier Jackson had a cold, cruel, and lonely childhood. He had his own laboratory at the age of four where worked with wood and sharp tools. As a child he had no intimate friends and few companions; unlike other boys his age Chevalier did not find interest in physical activities such as football, baseball, or dancing. Jackson was bullied as a child; he was bullied so much that at one point he was thrown into a trench and was found unconscious by a dog.

X-Ray of patient who swallowed safety pin

Chevalier Jackson went to Thomas Jefferson University and received a MD. He also went to England to study laryngology which is the branch of medicine that deals with the larynx and its diseases. After his college years, he went on and became a otolaryngologist. A otolaryngology is the study of diseases of the ear and throat. Dr Jackson’s specialty was the removal of objects from people’s throats. His most frightening procedure was when he had to extract three open safety pins from a nine-month-old baby.


He kept and took careful records of each swallowed object as an example for other otolaryngologists while performing bronchoscopy. Bronchoscopy is a procedure in which a hollow tube called a bronchoscope is injected into your airways to provide a view of the tracheobronchial tree. More than 80% of his patients were under the age of 15. Dr Jackson’s collection of over 2,000 swallowed objects consists mostly of safety pins, toys, coins, medals, and buttons.

Dr. Jackson practiced his techniques for extracting swallowed objects on a doll named Michelle. Michelle had a child sized esophagus which made it extremely easier for him to practice his techniques on her. Once, Jackson even demonstrated an emergency tracheotomy on Michelle; the scar on her mouth is still shown. Michelle helped Chevalier Jackson gain confidence to operate and try his new ideas on real children. Because of Michelle, Jackson was able to save the lives of over 98% of the children he treated.


If you’d like to learn more about Chevalier Jackson, his whole collection is located in carefully-arranged drawers in the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.