Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University

Historical Profile

John Chalmers DaCosta, MD:

Restoration of the 'Old Operating Table'

Dr. John DaCosta

Co-Chair (1907-1931)
Department of Surgery
Jefferson Medical College

Madalyn Peters
Adam Berger, MD
Gordon Schwartz, MD
Charles J. Yeo, ND
Scott Cowan, MD

Accepted for publication, The American Surgeon, January 2012


  • Born on November 15, 1863 in Washington, DC
  • 1880-1882: Majored in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Observed Drs. Gross, Pancoast, Agnew at Philadelphia Hospital
  • 1882-1885: Attended Jefferson Medical College

The Table

Ely Building
Ely Building SW corner of 10th and Sansom – now Main Hospital Building
  • Constructed sometime between the years 1850-1855 by an unknown manufacturer in America.
  • Made of solid walnut, fashioned into a basic rectangular top with hinged leaves at either end.
  • Equipped with a pocket side panel which allows for a sliding leaf to be inserted inside, increasing the width of the table.
  • The entire top portion swivels on a hexagonal base fastened with brass brackets on each corner.
  • The original home for the operating table was in the upper lecture room of the Ely Building of the Tenth Street College Hospital.
  • When the Sansom Street Hospital opened in 1877, the table was relocated to the surgical amphitheater, referred to by students and professors alike as 'the pit‘. Surgical amphitheater in adjoining hospital (1877) – first Jefferson Hospital West of Ely Building
  • DaCosta recognized the meaningful message projected by the operating table and relays his intentions for its future with this quote from an article:

“It is evident that this table has had the closest association with some of the greatest men who ever adorned the surgery of the last three quarters of a century, and it should be held, cherished, and cared for as a precious relic as long as the school shall stand.”

The Operating TableThe table is now located entranceway of the main surgery offices where it stands behind velvet roping. In this new home, it has returned to its proper place of surgical education. Here, a constant stream of students, residents and faculty pass by it daily so that they may recall the early years of surgery at Jefferson and appreciate the evolution from its humble beginnings.

Images courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, TJU.