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Institute for Innovative Education

papers of r. plato


The Myodynamics Laboratory of the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry was a research unit established within the Department of Surgery in 1926, the goal of which was to accurately record and study the mechanisms of human locomotion. The papers of the laboratory consist of publications and reports on its research; complete series of gait studies in their various formats; reports, correspondence and contracts with the numerous European and North American shoe manufacturers who utilized gait research; and an extensive collection of photographs, negatives, and motion picture films recording the Laboratory's activities. The bulk of the materials in the collection (1926-1965) were transferred to the Miner Library in the late 1970s, with additions made by Mrs. Arthur Heath (1978) and Mrs. Dorothy Schwartz (1986), widows of the principal figures in the Laboratory's operation. Processing of the collection was completed on 24 October 1986. The collection is contained in thirty-eight boxes occupying twenty-eight linear feet.

The Myodynamics Laboratory (often referred to as the Gait Laboratory in the papers) was established within the Department of Surgery in 1926 by R. Plato Schwartz (1894-1965), soon after his appointment as Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery. Dr. Schwartz's intention was to devise mechanisms for the accurate recording of human locomotion in order to establish norms for both normal and abnormal gait. The Laboratory's first efforts resulted in a pendulum basograph in 1926, which by the early thirties had been replaced by a pneumographic gait recorder (on the principle of Marey's). By the end of the decade, an electrobasograph had been constructed which produced gait records on film. In the 1940s the oscillograph gait recorder was devised, which, with increasingly sophisticated enhancements, remained the basic gait measurement unit through the 1960s.

In the 1930s the Myodynamics Laboratory began its association with the Armstrong Shoe Company of Rochester, N.Y., who were interested in the application of the Laboratory's research on foot function to shoe design. This began the first of a long series of contacts with American and European last and shoe manufacturers, and quickly became the Laboratory's principle source of income.

In 1931 Arthur L. Heath, B.S. joined the Myodynamics Laboratory as a Research Associate. His association with the Laboratory lasted through its closing in 1969, by which time he was Associate Director.

From the mid-1930s, research in the Myodynamics Laboratory focused increasingly on the development of "functional" principles of last and shoe design, with the continuing perfection of gait recording instruments and the development of such mechanisms as the mirrorscope, the last balograph and the last contourgraph. The Laboratory maintained its interest in the pure mechanics of human locomotion, however, and the application of these studies to the diagnosis and correction of gait abnormalities, whether caused by injury or congenital condition.

In conjunction with Dr. Schwartz's separate researches into poliomyelitis and cerebral palsy in the late 1940s and 1950s, the Laboratory extended its prior electromyographic researches into the effects of poliomyelitis and cerebral palsy on muscle function. The Laboratory was also instrumental in the founding of the Edith Hartwell Clinic in Leroy, N.Y., a facility for the training of children affected with cerebral palsy.

After Dr. Schwartz's retirement in June 1957, the Myodynamics Laboratory continued under the direction of Arthur Heath. Despite Mr. Heath's attempts in the mid-1960s to organize a Foot & Footwear Research Institute on the foundations of the Myodynamics Laboratory, the program appears to have been gradually phased out and is last mentioned in the 1968/69 issue of the Official Bulletin of the School of Medicine & Dentistry.

The Papers

The papers of Russell Plato Schwartz are organized into the following series (consult inventory for actual container list):

  • Publications (1928-67) of the Myodynamics Laboratory; reports, lectures and manuscripts (1935-67). Box three includes Arthur Heath's extensive proposals for a national Foot & Footwear Research Institute. (Boxes 1-3)
  • Reports and meetings with shoe manufacturers and government contractees (1947-68). (Boxes 4-6)
  • Licensing and royalty agreements with shoe and last manufacturers. (Boxes 7-8)
  • Correspondence. (Box 9) Much of the correspondence is white on black negative photostat copies, i.e., the text is reversed.
  • Equipment descriptions, specifications, etc. (Boxes 10-11) For information regarding equipment it is also essential to consult the publications and reports series (Boxes 1-3), the photograph and negative series, and the motion picture series. The greater part of the material in the equipment series concerns pressure discs.
  • Materials pertaining to poliomyelitis and cerebral palsy. (Box 12)
  • Photographic prints. (Boxes 13-14)
  • Photographic negatives. (Boxes 15-22)
  • Gait records: electrobasograms. (Box 23) There was originally a very extensive collection of electrobasograph film records (1933- 39). The greater part of these records were on nitrate film, however, and had to be discarded. Many more had been water- damaged and had sealed together. It was possible to preserve intact the entire electrobasogram series for 1935 and 1936.
  • Shoes: technical reports concerning lasts, inserts, etc. (Box 24)
  • Last contourgrams:1943-65. (Boxes 25-27) A representative selection of contourgrams has been retained, including the earliest existing series (1943-46), and the series of contourgrams of lasts made for Endicott Johnson by Stewart & Potter (1952-59) and by Jones & Vining (1950-65).
  • Gait records--oscillographic: 1939-63. (Boxes 28-32)
  • Assorted shoe lasts. (Box 33)
  • Assorted shoes and inserts. (Box 34)
  • Motion pictures: 1931-62. (Boxes 35-38)

Container List (pdf format)

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R. Plato Schwartz

photo  of Rusell Plato Schwartz