The Civil War, Artificial Limbs, Innovation and Corporate Culture


civil war

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was one of the bloodiest in American history, with over 1,100,000 casualties and claimed more than 620,000 lives. Many of those wounded ended up as amputees.  And after a gruesome amputation operation of a damaged arm or leg with crude saws and no anaesthetics, for those that lived the prospects of a productive livelihood were slim. Standard army prosthetics consisted of a wooden peg leg or a stiff carved arm and hand.

J.E. Hanger

J.E. Hanger

James Edward Hanger was 18 years old and just three days into his role as a Confederate soldier when on June 3rd, 1861 he became the first casualty of the Civil War after a cannon ball smashed into his leg. Fitted with the standard army peg leg after the amputation operation, he eventually was released from a Union prison and returned home to Virginia, where he locked himself into his room for three months.

Hanger Patent

Hanger Patent

But unlike most amputees at the time, rather than being sidelined in life, he immediately began to develop the first articulated artificial limb and knee-joint. For Hanger this new prosthetic was a requirement to get back to a productive life as an engineer. It also became his livelihood. The newly designed artificial limb became in demand from other Civil War casualties, and later on casualties from WWI. Over the next several decades he built Hanger Prosthetics into a nationwide company that dramatically improved the lives of thousands of amputees.


So where does this type of innovation come from?

Innovation begins with a dissatisfaction with the way things are and then grows into a burning passion to make things better.

Two things are critical for real innovation to occur.  A deep dissatisfaction with the current situation coupled with an internal belief that you can make a difference.

Dissatisfaction without accountability leads to loud complaining, but little change.

Today, the Hanger Group is a collection of R&D, prosthetics and rehabilitation companies that has nearly 25% of the global prosthetics market and remains a leader in prosthetics innovation.

And if you ever interact with one of the Hanger companies, you will hear the story of James Edward Hanger at least a thousand times. The belief and the purpose that drove young Hanger to make a difference are still very much alive within the Hanger organizations.  The company purpose and a culture of accountability drives them to continuously innovate, to help people lead better lives, to make a difference, not just make a profit.

Kennedy difference quote

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid


Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
This entry was posted in consulting, corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, Life Skills, Organization Behavior, Self-improvement and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Civil War, Artificial Limbs, Innovation and Corporate Culture

  1. Demetrie Comnas says:


    You personify this credo as well as anyone.



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