The earliest recorded attempts at hip replacement (Gluck T, 1891), which were carried out in Germany, used ivory to replace the femoral head (the ball on the femur).1
In 1940 at Johns Hopkins hospital, Dr. Austin T. Moore (1899–1963), an American surgeon, reported and performed the first metallic hip replacement surgery. The original prosthesis he designed was a proximal femoral replacement, with a large fixed head, made of the Cobalt-Chrome alloy Vitallium. It was about a foot in length and it bolted to the resected end of the femoral shaft (hemiarthroplasty). This was unlike later (and current) hip replacement prostheses which are inserted within the medullary canal of the femur. A later version of Dr. Moore’s prosthesis, the so-called Austin Moore, introduced in 1952 is still in use today.
In 1960 a Burmese orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. San Baw (29 June 1922 – 7 December 1984), pioneered the use of ivory hip prostheses to replace ununited fractures of the neck of femur when he first used an ivory prosthesis to replace the fractured hip bone of an 83 year old Burmese Buddhist nun, Daw Punya.2 This was done while Dr. San Baw was the chief of orthopaedic surgery at Mandalay General Hospital in Mandalay, Burma. Dr. San Baw used over 300 ivory hip replacements from the 1960s to 1980s. He presented a paper entitled “Ivory hip replacements for ununited fractures of the neck of femur” at the conference of the British Orthopaedic Association held in London in September 1969. An 88% success rate was discerned in that Dr. San Baw’s patients ranging from the ages of 24 to 87 were able to walk, squat, ride a bicycle and play football a few weeks after their fractured hip bones were replaced with ivory prostheses. Ivory may have been used because it was cheaper than metal at that time in Burma and also was thought to have good biomechanical properties including biological bonding of ivory with the human tissues nearby. An extract from Dr San Baw’s paper, which he presented at the British Orthopaedic Association’s Conference in 1969, is published in Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (British edition), February 1970. With modern hip replacement surgery, one can expect to walk immediately post-op.