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Milford Barron
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Biographical Info

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Milford Barron was born on Feb. 1, 1913 in Anderson, Indiana, the sixth child in a family of seven children.  Having two older brothers and three older sisters, Milford learned early in life how to fend for himself.  In those days the children were expected to help support the family in whatever way they could.  Milford often recounted stories of going out with his closest (older) brother one November day, and they trapped a possum which their mother cooked for the Thanksgiving meal.  They were too poor to afford a Thanksgiving turkey that year.  Milford was a fountain of similar tales from his childhood.

Milford attended Anderson High School during which time he obtained a job at the Delco Remy Division of General Motors where he worked as a stock chaser.  In order to stand out from all of the other hourly workers he would constantly offer suggestions to his boss, and he soon became recognized as somebody who was creative and innovative.  He ultimately worked at General Motors for 44 years.

Milford graduated from high school in 1932, and was the only one of the Barron children that went to college.  In keeping with his mettle Milford looked for a way to afford college, and discovered that General Motors had its own college in Flint, Michigan that offered a cooperative program.  Milford could work at Delco Remy for 6 months and go to school for 6 months.  He badgered the personnel department at Delco Remy for months until they finally caved in and sponsored him for the cooperative program at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University).   He graduated from GMI in 1937 with a degree in Industrial Engineering.

With a college degree under his belt, Milford concentrated his energies at Delco Remy where he began a career in Production Control that spanned 3 decades.  He transferred from Delco Remy to AC Spark Plug in 1967, and eventually retired from General Motors in 1974 when he held the top corporate position in production control as the Executive in charge of Production Control, Procurement, and Logistics.  During his career at General Motors he was one of the first managers in industry to utilize computers for production scheduling.  That was in the mid-1950s when computer data was input via punch cards, and computer memory consisted of magnetic tape.  His production scheduling system was eventually incorporated across all of General Motors, an accomplishment which has received little recognition, but which revolutionized the way that General Motors controls their production scheduling and inventory.

Always an innovator, and always looking to help others, Milford was approached during the mid-1940s by an old high school friend, Harry Brown, who was a doctor in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Harry was frustrated by the difficulties that all surgeons faced when trying to perform skin grafts on burn victims.  The standard of practice at that time was to utilize a surgical scalpel to take small sections of skin from an unburned region of the body for transplantation to the burned area.  Harvesting tissue of uniform width and thickness was obviously an almost impossible challenge.  Harry took Milford to a children’s burn unit in an Indianapolis hospital where many children lay suffering from burns.  That disheartening vision gave Milford the incentive to attempt development of a better method for skin grafting, even though he had few tools to work with.  Whenever he got discouraged by the daunting challenges that he faced he would reflect back on the images of the suffering children.

Fortunately, Milford’s father, Tweed Barron was an auto mechanic, and he had a modest machine shop in his garage.  It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.  Over a period of several years Milford bent and welded metal, pondered designs that would survive the harsh environment of sterilizing steam autoclaves, and struggled to develop an instrument that could be fabricated in production.  By 1948 he had refined the product so that a uniform 2 inch width of skin tissue could be cut with a thickness controlled to less than a thousandth of an inch, and he filed for a patent to protect his invention.  The 2 inch model was soon replaced by a wider 3 inch version which had been used by surgeons for over half a century.  Milford named the instrument the Brown ElectroDermatome in honor of his friend Harry, who was killed in an automobile accident before he could see the benefits of the device whose invention he had catalyzed with a visit to the children’s burn unit several years before.

Not having enough capital to establish a manufacturing facility for the ElectroDermoatome, Milford sold the manufacturing rights to Zimmer Manufacturing, which is now a subsidiary of Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co.  However, he did scrap together enough resources to manufacture the disposable blades that were inserted into the Dermatomes for each operation, and he founded Precision Instruments, Inc. to manufacture the blades.  He solicited his father, brothers and sisters, and in-laws to work part-time to produce the early blades because he couldn’t afford to employ full-time help.  As the Dermatome gained widespread usage, he was eventually able to employ a small, permanent work force. Over 6 million of those blades were produced in the fifty-two years between 1948 and 2000, when production finally gave way to newer models and newer skin grafting procedures.  Milford’s contributions to the treatment of burns was recognized by a special award from the American Association of Plastic Surgeons.

After suffering a heart attack in 1973 and having heart bypass surgery performed by Walter Janke, Milford asked Dr. Janke to identify problem areas associated with open heart surgery.  Milford built prototypes of several devices that never made it to production, but one creation did survive – the Janke-Barron Heart Support, which is used by surgeons to cradle the heart while surgery is being performed.  This device continues to be produced, and is used by thousands of doctors around the world.

After retiring from General Motors in 1974 Milford was introduced to Phil Hessburg, an ophthalmologist in the Detroit, Michigan area who had treated Milford’s son-in-law.  That relationship led to the development of the Hessburg-Barron corneal trephine, introduced in the late 1970s, and subsequently to the Donor Cornea Punch and the Radial Vacuum Trephine.  These devices are currently sold in more than 90 countries around the world, and are the standard devices used by ophthalmologists  for cornea transplants. 

Milford Barron died on March 9, 2001, having left the world a much better place than he found it.  One could say that he truly lived to invent, and he continued to innovate even on the day that he died.  

 

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