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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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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