Sunday, July 5, 2015

The man behind Lankenau Hospital

John D. Lankenau (1817-1901) was perhaps the greatest Lutheran layman in 19-century America.

The man behind Lankenau Hospital

John D. Lankenau (
John D. Lankenau (

John D. Lankenau (1817-1901) was perhaps the greatest Lutheran layman in 19-century America.

Born in Germany, he emigrated to America in 1836 and became a prosperous Philadelphia businessman. In 1865, he sold his firm and retired from business and from 1869 until his death was president of the German Hospital of the City of Philadelphia.

After his wife and two children died between 1873 and 1882, charitable work became a focus of his life. He greatly enlarged German Hospital, and in 1884 brought seven deaconesses from Germany to take charge there. He also built the Mary J. Drexel Home and Philadelphia Motherhouse of Deaconesses, which housed a home for the aged and a children’s hospital, as well as the deaconesses.

At his death on August 30, 1901, most of his estate was divided between the hospital and the deaconesses. In 1917, the German Hospital was formally named after John D. Lankenau.

The place had been chartered in 1860 by people of German heritage to provide a place where Philadelphia's German-speaking populace could be treated by persons speaking their language. It opened in 1866 at 12th and Norris Streets in North Philadelphia. The hospital later relocated to larger facilities at Girard and Corinthian Avenues. Since 1953, it has been located outside the city's western limits in Wynnewood.

Among the medical advances which Lankenau Hospital introduced to Philadelphia were: the city's first bacteriological and chemical research laboratory (1889); Koch’s treatment for tuberculosis (1890); the bath treatment for typhoid fever (1890); Behring’s diphtheria serum (1894); x-ray (1896). Another innovation - imported from Germany - was the idea of insuring against hospital costs. The hospital’s original bylaws specified: "Unmarried persons paying regularly 25 cents a month shall be entitled to free admission as patients"—thus creating what is believed to be America’s first hospitalization insurance.

Lankenau Hospital has also been on the forefront of cancer research. In 1925, Dr. Stanley P. Reimann established the first research center in the nation to study cancer as a problem of abnormal growth. In 1953, the hospital installed the country's first cobalt unit for the treatment of cancer. The research facility later became a separate entity, the Institute of Cancer Research.

Now called Lankenau Medical Center, the facility is a founding member of Main Line Health, a community based not-for-profit health system, comprising Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital, and Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital.


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HMP was conceived and formed in 2008 by Sam Katz as part of a plan to produce a multi-part series on the history of Philadelphia. It is now a full service production company with a focus on helping organizations with a rich history tell their stories through the powerful medium of film.

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