EDITOR’S NOTE: This column originally appeared on January 22, 2000. An edited version will be re-executed in connection with the Cleveland Clinic’s 100th anniversary.
George Washington Crile, a farm boy from Coshocton County, hadn’t chosen his life’s work when he enrolled as a student at Ohio Northern University in Ada. His cousin persuaded him to consider medicine a career, and it was a decision Crile never regretted.
Crile became an internationally known surgeon and one of the founders of the world famous Cleveland Clinic.
Crile was born on November 11, 1864 on a farm outside the village of Chili, about five miles southwest of the Baltic Sea. He attended school in Chili and later attended a summer college in Berlin.
Two of his closest companions were his cousins Jacob Daniel Lower, also born in 1864, and William Edgar Lower, born in 1867. Their mothers were sisters.
“Jacob and I were the same age,” Crile later recalled. “He was my fiercest competitor in school, but over the years Ed became my special friend. Over the years, Ed and I maintained that bond.
“In winter, our little band trampled the two long miles over the enchanted, snow-covered hills to the county school. The school was in session about six months a year.”
The first book Crile ever owned was a copy of Webster’s unabridged dictionary. People from afar came to see it. A teacher from a neighboring ward just came to lift it. He’d heard it weighed 10 pounds.
“I felt excellent as the sole owner of something as infamous as Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary,” said Crile.
After graduating from high school, Crile attended Ohio Northern. His roommate was his cousin Jacob.
The winter when they got home from college, the two cousins were teaching the school. Crile taught at Pearl and Plainfield in Coshocton Counties and at Oak Valley School in Tuscarawas County, about a mile and a half southeast of the Baltic Sea. Lower taught in Pearl and Bakersville, Coshocton Counties.
Crile wasn’t sure what job he wanted to do, but he knew he didn’t want to be a teacher. His grandfather Jacob Deetz wanted him to become a minister and even offered to pay part of the cost of his education. However, Crile seriously considered studying law instead.
Debate was a popular form of entertainment in rural areas at the time, and Crile and Jacob Lower were avid debaters. While researching for a debate, Lower became interested in medicine as a career. He eventually persuaded his cousin to become a doctor too.
The two cousins enrolled at a medical school in Cleveland, where they were roommates again. At school, Crile showed signs of brilliance.
Upon graduation, Crile entered Dr. Frank J. Weed, President of Cleveland University Hospital and famous surgeon. Jacob Lower returned to Coshocton County, where he practiced medicine in Bakersville for 8 years and then moved to Coshocton.
After Weed’s death, Crile began a practice with another Weed assistant, Dr. Frank E. Bunts. Their practice grew so rapidly that they soon asked Crile’s cousin Ed Lower to join them. Ed already had a successful practice in Conneaut, Ohio.
During this time, Crile and Ed Lower continue their training overseas. Crile studied in Berlin, Vienna and England, while Ed Lower studied in Berlin, Vienna, Paris and London.
Crile quickly gained a reputation as an innovator. In 1896 he was the first surgeon to use an x-ray. In 1905 he discovered adrenaline, a drug that he used to restore breathing to people who were apparently dead. In 1907 he performed the first successful operation on a poisonous goiter.
In 1912, Crile began using Novocaine with chloroform to relieve surgical interventions from the risk of shock. With this new method, he reduced his surgical death rate to 1.9%, a record low.
Crile, Bunts, and Ed Lower were used during the Spanish-American War and World War I. While serving in France during World War I, Crile introduced blood transfusion methods that earned him the nickname “The Wizard of Cleveland”. His experience with men wounded in explosions prompted the Allies to change their method of building trenches.
The three partners saw the benefits to their patients at the Army Hospital when the doctors enlisted the services of surgeons, pathologists, nurses, and an X-ray department.
This inspired her to found the Cleveland Clinic in 1921.
One of the greatest tragedies in Crile’s life occurred on May 15, 1929. Thousands of X-rays stored in the basement of the Cleveland Clinic burned, releasing deadly gas throughout the building. At least 130 patients, doctors and accompanying persons died as a result of the disaster.
A white-clad Dr. Crile row after row of dying people on the clinic lawn, doing what he could to alleviate their suffering.
Crile died of heart disease on January 7, 1943. His cousin and colleague Ed Lower died on June 16, 1948.
A historical marker in her honor was erected on County Road 10 in Chile in 2004.
In 2018, Union Hospital in Dover became a full member of the Cleveland Clinic health system, which Crile and Lower helped create.
Jon Baker is a reporter for The Times Reporter and can be reached at [email protected].