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H MS c150

Walter, Carl Waldemar, 1905-. Papers, 1933-1992, 1996: Finding Aid.

Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)


Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: H MS c150
Repository: Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)
Creator: Walter, Carl Waldemar, 1905-.
Title: Carl W. Walter papers,
Date(s): 1933-1992, 1996 (inclusive).
Quantity: 65 boxes
Language of materials: Records are in English.
Abstract: Records in the Carl W. Walter Papers were created by Walter during the course of his career as a medical researcher, founder of Fenwal Laboratories, and member of the Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, faculty. The collection includes: correspondence, photographs, film reels, speeches, meeting minutes, notebooks, and research files.

Processing Information:

Processed by Jennifer Pelose and SPI, July 2007.
This finding aid has been posted as a product of converting a heritage finding aid to an electronic format for the purpose of facilitating collection access. Researchers should be aware that this finding aid has not been revised to meet current Center for the History of Medicine descriptive practices, nor nationally promulgated content standards. Please report any difficulties using this guide to Public Services.

Conditions Governing Access:

Access requires advance notice. Access to Harvard University records is restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series VI and XIII. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.
The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact Public Services for more information concerning retrieval of material.

Conditions Governing Use:

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to Public Services. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from Public Services are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright.

Preferred Citation:

Carl W. Walter papers, 1933-1992, 1996 (inclusive). H MS c150. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Related Collections in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine

Biographical Notes

Carl Waldemar Walter was a surgeon, medical inventor, entrepreneur and educational benefactor, who came to Harvard as an undergraduate and stayed on for the remainder of his life. While his most enduring contribution to medicine was the development of the plastic blood bag, his varied interests included infection control,fire prevention,hospital design and medical education. As a clinical professor or surgery, he did not develop a large private practice, but spent his forty-year career on the staff of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School. He co-founded Fenwal, Inc. for the production of equipment for temperature sensing and control. The acquisition of Fenwal, Inc. by Kidde Corp. in the 1960s allowed Dr. Walter to devote many years to fundraising efforts for both Harvard Medical School and Harvard University.
Carl was born in Cleveland, Ohio on November 30, 1905, the son of Leda Agatha and Carl Frederick Walter. Upon graduation from Cleveland's West High School, where he concentrated on Latin, chemistry and running track, he was offered scholarships to the University of Michigan and Yale University. A meeting with Dr. Elliott C. Cutler, then professor of surgery at Western Reserve University and chairman of the Harvard Club of Cleveland, convinced him to attend Harvard University.
After graduating with a cum laude degree in 1928 (earned while working at numerous jobs to pay for his education), he was planning on becoming an industrial chemist when Dr. Cutler asked him to apply to Harvard Medical School. He received his M.D. in 1932, and took a surgical residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital where Dr. Cutler was becoming chief of surgery.
It was at the beginning of his residency that Dr. Walter developed his lifelong interest in the prevention of infection. Given the authority by Dr. Cutler to investigate hospital patients and staff as well as the hospital physical plant, Dr. Walter was able to combine his medical knowledge with his chemical and engineering skills to identify the causes of various infectious outbreaks: sewage entering the hospital water supply, endemic carriers of disease on the hospital staff and the use of improperly sterilized surgical instruments. He also developed and patented several devices to help combat infections in hospitals, including a washer-sterilizer for surgical instruments, and time- and temperature-control locks for autoclaves, sterilizers and dishwashers.
Dr. Walter's concern for nosocomial infections evolved into a broader awareness of hospital safety, especially in regard to the use of electrical equipment, and the presence of flammable substances (such as certain anesthetics). He spent many years as the official representative of the American College of Surgeons to the National Fire Protection Association, and was instrumental in formulating electrical codes for hospital power supplies and the regulation of flammable materials.
At the same time as his career at Harvard was evolving, Dr. Walter had a second vocation as an industrialist. Along with two neighbors--an inventive refrigerator technician and a World War I veteran looking for an investment for his military--he founded Fenwal, Inc. Originally a small organization, the company became prosperous during World War II as a supplier of temperature-controlled switches for military aircraft. Later, Fenwal produced fire and explosion suppression systems that were used in buildings, communication satellites and even NASA space vehicles.
Dr. Walter's dual professional lives intersected with the innovative use of plastic for blood collection and storage systems. Although he had been interested in improving upon the inefficient system of glass bottles and rubber tubing then in use since the beginning of his surgical residency, it was not until the development of flexible plastics in the late 1940s that allowed him to create a functional blood bag. The prototype was constructed in his garage over Thanksgiving weekend in 1947, but the bag with its attached needles and tubing (to ensure sterility and prevent clotting) was not patented until 1949. Because of complex issues regarding patenting and ownership of the device and Dr. Walter's academic status (Harvard policy did not permit him to keep the patent rights or to assign the rights to the University), Fenwal, Inc. created a subsidiary, Fenwal Laboratories, Inc., to produce and refine plastic blood collection systems, and to license the technology to other manufacturers.
Although the blood bag was used by the Army during the Korean War, and its development was promoted by the American Red Cross, FDA approval took over ten years. The financial drain of Fenwal Labs, Inc. on its parent company was so great that it had to be sold. While Dr. Walter did not gain any personal financial benefit from his invention, his reputation as an expert on the development of medical and surgical supplies meant that his advice as a consultant was sought by many well-known companies producing everything from surgical drapes to antibiotics. Dr. Walter's willingness to consult on his other areas of expertise led to numerous requests for him to inspect existing medical facilities for infection control and fire safety measures, and to discuss the architecture of new facilities in accordance with the latest innovations in hospital design.
Throughout his career, Dr. Walter's business acumen was utilized by both the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Harvard Medical School. At the hospital, he organized the Central Service Department and reformed the hospital's record and patient identification systems. Whenever the hospital added new facilities, Dr. Walter always was sure to voice his opinions on everything from parking facilities to landscaping to ventilation.
After his retirement in 1972, the medical school tapped Dr. Walter to head its Alumni Fund. Thereafter, what had been a well-intentioned but somewhat relaxed fundraising effort became a professional operation with a computerized alumni directory, an elaborate system of class and regional agents, and a new emphasis on corporate donors. During his seventeen years as treasurer and head of the HMS Alumni Fund, Dr. Walter collected more than twenty million dollars, of which he himself contributed eight. Much of Dr. Walter's fundraising was directed towards teaching efforts at the medical school; during his life he not only established a fund to support fellowships for student research and several life income trusts but also created funds for several professorships. In addition, he worked to bring researchers in contact with corporate funding.
Dr. Walter taught courses in asepsis and surgical techniques, gave many lectures and speeches in the U.S. and abroad on varied topics, and produced educational films. He also conducted seminars for operating room nurses in order to acquaint them with the latest techniques for infection control and hospital safety. A vocal proponent of the use of animals in medical education and research, he was involved in efforts both to combat anti-vivisection legislation and to improve the conditions in which laboratory animals were kept.
In addition to his busy professional activities, Carl Walter had a happy home life with his wife, the former Margaret Davis (whom he had known since junior high school in Cleveland), their six children, and a succession of pet dogs, ranging from poodles to Great Danes. Their home in Holliston, Mass., was surrounded by a carefully landscaped collection of trees organized, as Dr. Walter once put it, by "shades of green."
Carl Waldemar Walter died on May 5, 1992, from complications following a stroke the previous December. He is memorialized by an amphitheater bearing his name in the Medical Education Center at HMS. Even more, he is remembered with gratitude by the thousands of medical personnel he trained in surgery, infection control and fire prevention, and by the millions of people worldwide who have benefitted from blood and parenteral solutions stored in safe, sterile and convenient plastic bags.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

Scope and Content

Records in the Carl W. Walter Papers were created by Walter during the course of his career as a medical researcher, founder of Fenwal Laboratories, and member of the Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, faculty. The collection includes: correspondence, photographs, film reels, speeches, meeting minutes, notebooks, and research files.
Materials entirely in English.

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