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In the 1950s, a minimum of 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States by hammering an ice choice right into individuals’ minds via their eye outlets.

What’s True

It’s real that greater than 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the UNITED STATE in the late 1940s and also very early 1950s by placing a clinical tool looking like an ice choice via individuals’ eye outlets and also right into their minds. In a handful of very early experiments, the tool utilized was essentially a kitchen area ice choice. However …

What’s False

The large bulk of these transorbital lobotomies, as they were called, were performed with a tool which, though it looked like an ice choice, was especially created and also produced for this procedure.

What’s Undetermined

It’s unidentified specifically the number of of the earliest lobotomies were performed with an actual kitchen area ice choice; by one price quote, there were 1 or 2 lots such procedures.

There was a time when specific psychological problems (generally what is currently referred to as schizophrenia) were so unsusceptible existing kinds of therapy that medical professionals started exploring with a kind of mind surgical treatment, inevitably called “ lobotomy,” as a last hope. According to an old clinical urban myth, throughout the 1950s these surgical procedures were performed by essentially hammering an ice choice right into client minds via their eye outlets:

Dr. Walter Freeman performs ice pick lobotomy (Twitter screenshot)

50,000 ice pick lobotomies were performed in the 1950s (Reddit screenshot)

There’s a grain of reality to these cases, however they’re additionally partially incorrect, for factors we’ll describe listed below. First, allow’s take a quick check out the background of lobotomies.

From Bone Drills to Ice Picks

The earliest lobotomy experiments in the 20th century took numerous kinds, consisting of: opening the head and also getting rid of components of the client’s mind, piercing 2 openings in the client’s head and also infusing ethyl alcohol straight right into the prefrontal cortex of the mind, and also releasing a retracting cord loophole via an opening pierced in the client’s temple to interrupt nerve fibers ranging from the prefrontal cortex to the thalamus. All of these approaches were (appropriately) debatable and also generated blended outcomes at ideal (some individuals passed away), however the last strategy of placing a tool via an opening and also cutting neural links in the mind captured on in the 1930s, and also was also advertised as a “miracle procedure.”

During what may be described the “golden age” of lobotomy, from the mid-1940s to the early 1950s,Dr Walter Freeman of George Washington University created and also promoted a structured strategy referred to as a “transorbital lobotomy,” which included “sedating” a person with a collection of electroconvulsive shocks, after that, rather than piercing an opening, placing an ice pick-like medical tool right into the mind using the client’s eye outlets to cut neural fibers thought to be the reason for specific type of mental disease.

ice pick lobotomySt Joseph,Missouri Glore Psychiatric Museum. Display revealing ice choice lobotomy. (Education Images/Universal Images Group by means of Getty Images)

Freeman was a wonderful follower in this strategy, and also would certainly occasionally take a trip the united state showing transorbital lobotomies in psychological health centers. During the 1950s, this sort of psychosurgery came to be incredibly popular. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it holds true that greater than 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States, a lot of them in between 1949 and also 1952. By his very own matter, Freeman performed or gotten involved in approximately 3,400 of these himself, according to Jack El-Hai, writer of the 2005 publication “The Lobotomist

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Were 50,000 Lobotomies Performed with an Ice Pick?

In actual terms, it’s incorrect that 50,000 lobotomies in the united state were performed with an ice choice. The large bulk of them were performed with clinical tools that looked like (and also undoubtedly were initially imitated) a conventional kitchen area ice choice. Partially as a result of that similarity, transorbital lobotomies were commonly recognized, informally, as “ice-pick lobotomies,” consisting of within the psychological neighborhood itself. The various other factor is that Freeman, that designed the 2 conventional tools utilized in these lobotomies, the transorbital leucotome and also the orbitoclast, not just was motivated by the layout and also energy of the simple ice choice for his objectives, however truly did make use of a kitchen area ice choice in his earliest transorbital lobotomy experiments, starting with bodies.

The trouble with the existing tools he attempted was that they can not puncture the transorbital plate, a layer of bone shielding the mind, without harming it. In “The Lobotomist,” El-Hai defines Freeman’s “aha” minute:

Stymied, he looked for a device that would certainly function. He required “some instrument, slender, sharp and tough,” he created. In his kitchen area cabinet in your home he discovered the service: a device with a solid shaft and also strong wood take care of. It was a conventional ice choice imprinted with the name of the Uline Ice Company.

Did Freeman make use of that kitchen area ice choice to execute lobotomies on real living individuals? The historic agreement seems indeed, he did. How lots of? That’s challenging to establish. El-Hai informed us in an e-mail that he discovered no number mentioned in Freeman’s archived documents. “My best guess is that Freeman used a kitchen ice pick for the first dozen or two dozen of his transorbital lobotomies before advancing to better equipment,” El-Hai stated.

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The lobotomy boom of the late 1940s and also very early 1950s slowly subsided as the ’50s endured, mostly as a result of successes with freshly created antipsychotic and also antidepressant medicines that generated better (and also much less high-risk) results, however additionally since the treatment happened extremely slammed within the clinical occupation itself. Today, according to a 2017 research, “the lobotomy is rarely practiced, and Freeman’s techniques are obsolete.”


Caruso, James P., and also Jason P.Sheehan “Psychosurgery, Ethics, and Media: A History of Walter Freeman and the Lobotomy.” Neurosurgical Focus, vol. 43, no. 3,Sept 2017, p. E6.,

El-Hai,Jack The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and also His Tragic Quest to Rid the World ofMental Illness John Wiley & &Sons, 2007.

How Many People Actually Got Lobotomized? |Britannica Accessed 20Jan 2023.

Lobotomy|Definition, Procedure, History,Effects, & Facts|Britannica. Accessed 20Jan 2023.

Tanya Lewis”Lobotomy: Definition, Procedure & History.” Livescience Com, 13Oct 2021,

“The History of Lobotomy.” Psych Central, 6 May 2022,

Walter Jackson Freeman II|American Neurologist|Britannica. Accessed 20Jan 2023.

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