The road to Mayo Clinic: the story of Dr. Plummer and the Mayo brothers
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 2:11 AM
The 1892 graduating class of Spring Valley high school boasted at least one man who made a significant impact on the whole world of medicine. Can you guess who? Dr. Henry Plummer was in the seventh class to graduate along with six other young men and six ladies. And why did he impact the world? Because of his valued association with the Mayo brothers, Will and Charles, who founded the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
Dr. Henry Plummer, associate of Drs. Charlie and Will Mayo; and the Plummer Building that bears his name.
Short story: Henry's father, Dr. Albert Plummer, came to the Hamilton area (north of Spring Valley) after his service in the Civil War, and there he practiced the rest of his career. Two sons, Henry and Will, both became physicians very early on.
It came about this way. In 1901 Dr. Albert Plummer of Racine called Dr. Will Mayo for a consultation. When Dr. Will arrived, he found Dr. Plummer ill and unable to keep their appointment, but Plummer insisted his doctor son, Henry, who was practicing with him, would accompany Will on the hour drive to see the patient. Henry had worked at Saint Marys Hospital during his schooling at the U of M, then Northwestern University Medical School where he graduated in 1898. The patient they were seeing had leukemia, and microscope in hand, Henry eagerly discussed the chemistry of blood while en route. He drew drops of blood from the patient and from the "hired man" to show Dr. Will how different these were. Dr. Will was astounded that Henry knew so much more than he did about blood, and soon after, he hired Henry to supervise the clinic laboratories as well as the x-ray department. Dr. Henry Plummer considered "the whole of medicine" and not just an area at a time, a fairly new concept. Soon Dr. Charles Mayo and Dr. Henry Plummer became specialists in the treatment of the thyroid gland, and patients began coming from all over the country for treatment.
"The Doctors Mayo" by Helen Clapesattle, is a remarkable story about the development of the Mayo Clinic and its impact on the city through the every-day needs for electricity, clean water, hospitals and staff, rooms for patients, hotel rooms for relatives, places to eat, parks for recreation, transportation and much more. They actually instituted an ambulance service as early as 1897. This book is heartily recommended.
If you've been to the Mayo Clinic, you are no doubt aware of the magnificent Plummer Building at the heart of the downtown complex, an architectural triumph amidst other taller modern structures. It was in 1926 that Dr. Henry Plummer worked with the St. Paul firm, Ellerbe & Co. to design this building. Plummer insisted the new building be both functional and aesthetically attractive, resulting in the incredibly beautiful structure that cost three million dollars.
Things to note: The elaborately carved bronze entrance doors that are 16 feet high and weigh 4,000 pounds each. The 42 carved panels on the doors are symbols of education, agriculture, domestic and fine arts, medicine, Native Americans and items of Minnesota lore. A stone relief of Dr. Plummer examining the building plans as well as several other reliefs are found on the exterior. The tower, which is lighted at night, boasts griffins, gargoyles, dragons and owls plus a pair of women nurses at each corner. Gorgeous marbles were imported from five countries, and there are floors of marble mosaic, terrazo, cork and parquet. Visit the 14th floor - the Memorial Hall - for a wonderful exhibit.
Perhaps the crowning glory is a gift to the community of music - the carillon bells. The Mayo brothers appreciated fine music and became enthralled with the bells they heard in Europe. The original 23 bells were cast in England, and in 1928, another 33 bells were cast in Holland, making a total of 56 bells with a total weight of 36,986 pounds, the largest weighing 7,840! Carillon concerts are performed on Mondays at 7 p.m. and noon on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Among the countless talents of Dr. Henry Plummer is one more to catch your attention. With the influx of patients, and their scattered records in x-ray, or lab, or with a given doctor, it became necessary to bring order out of the confusion. After a year of travel to see how others handled the process, Plummer devised the blessing of the dossier system. Each patient was assigned a number, and all his records were put into one envelope for accurate, complete and up to date information accessible by each doctor as needed. He then designed a conveyor belt that "called up" the records from a central file, a precursor to the system of pneumatic tubes used since 1940s. Nowadays, of course, doctors can refer to those records via computer.
Dr. Plummer also visited the telephone company back in the l920s to request that each doctor be able to confer with another doctor in the building via phone. When the phone company said "no way," he patiently explained to their engineer how it could be done, and lo and behold - it was done. A visit to the Plummer estate in the southwest part of Rochester shows the inventive genius and talents of Henry Plummer - a most remarkable man. And we can claim he got his education right here in Spring Valley.