Dr. Robert Gersuny – an Austrian physician – developed the use of paraffin injections for breast augmentation in the 1890s. Complications were numerous, lead by a high infection rate, effectively killing the procedure by World War I. By the 1920s and 1930s some surgeons attempted transplanting fat from the buttocks or abdomen to the breast, but found that it was quickly resorbed by the body resulting in unsightly lumps and bumps with scars left at both the implant and donor sites. Surgical methods were abandoned during the mid 1940s and medical journals suggested the use of external prostheses made of sponge rubber – essentially hi-tech bra stuffing. Other physicians interested in increasing the density of breast tissue itself prescribed estrogen injections – a procedure not without complications for the results offered. Pictured: Dr. Robert Gersuny
Even without offering anything substantive towards breast augmentation, cosmetic surgery found itself at a crossroads during the 1940s and 1950s. The collective conscience of America was torn between increasing breast size and remaining “true” to one’s body. Celluloid and magazines were littered with images of Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, pushing the “new look,” and women wanted what they had. Breasts that defied gravity, full sweaters, bathing suit fashions and Playboy magazine all took their turns at making their mark on American culture. Surgeons attempted the fat graft again without much success while the manufacture of “falsies” became a multimillion dollar industry. During this period, Robert Alan Franklyn, a Hollywood surgeon began to implant surgifoam in women’s breasts – a cousin of polyurethane. Other surgeons were using a similar material called Ivalon. After the initial honeymoon period, women began to complain of hardening, and a 25% decrease in size from the initial breast size gained post-operatively. Surgifoam and Ivalon – known as “sponges” in the popular media – lost favor, but the idea persisted. Pictured: Actress Lana Turner
While augmentation surgery evolved, the underground practice of silicone injections was becoming popular. In 1943 the Corning Glass Works company joined with the Dow Chemical Company to form the Dow Corning Corporation and they pioneered the development of silicone as an engine lubricant that was resistant to high temperatures. Considered an inert material that could be easily sterilized, Japanese cosmetologists injected the liquid directly into women’s breasts – and the “procedure” became so popular that silicone became difficult to find. One story from the time suggests that silicone became so scarce, crates were stolen off docks for injection into Japanese prostitutes. Stateside, the procedure was popular with showgirls and dancers, but complications such as discoloration and infection were soon being documented. Medical grade silicone became regulated and limited to a very small study, inaugurating the underground practice of injecting industrial grade silicone. Pictured: San Francisco showgirl and stripper Carol Doda who had weekly silicone injections for years.