Material Traces of Disability

Andrew Gawley’s Steel Hands

In: Nuncius
Jaipreet Virdi University of Delaware Department of History USA Newark, Delaware

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This paper examines the lived experiences of Canadian machinist and double-amputee Andrew A. Gawley (1895–1961), whose prosthetic “steel hands” rose him to fame during the mid-twentieth century, to analyze how disability objects can illuminate complex tensions of unruliness to represent a fraught epistemological materiality. Drawing on Williamson and Guffey’s “design model of disability,” I argue that Gawley’s prostheses are physical and tangible representations of his need to achieve functional normalcy. His self-reliance and identity was not only premised on ability, but dependent upon the complex unruliness ascribed within the prostheses, such that the sensationalized freakery of the “steel hands” become as crucial to Gawley’s identity as his performances of normative masculinity.


This paper examines the lived experiences of Canadian machinist and double-amputee Andrew A. Gawley (1895–1961), whose prosthetic “steel hands” rose him to fame during the mid-twentieth century, to analyze how disability objects can illuminate complex tensions of unruliness to represent a fraught epistemological materiality. Drawing on Williamson and Guffey’s “design model of disability,” I argue that Gawley’s prostheses are physical and tangible representations of his need to achieve functional normalcy. His self-reliance and identity was not only premised on ability, but dependent upon the complex unruliness ascribed within the prostheses, such that the sensationalized freakery of the “steel hands” become as crucial to Gawley’s identity as his performances of normative masculinity.

Arithmetic says that one is half of two. But one hand, I assure you, is indefinitely more than the half of two hands – when you have no hands at all!”

Andrew A. Gawley, 19241

In the spring of 1933, millions of visitors walked through the fairgrounds of the Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition. Built along Lake Michigan and Island Park, and featuring tall, colorful, and angular buildings encapsulating the hallmark of modern architecture, the exposition was a celebration of Chicago’s centennial year and a proposition for imagining a better future. The theme of “Science Funds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms,” assured a possible global utopia built on progress and innovation in science and technology, and the fair was successful enough to warrant a second operational year. For two years, visitors explored exhibitions featuring appliances and tools aimed to generate optimism in technology’s ability to improve daily life and strolled the Midway where attractions offered “an escape from the Depression’s doldrums” – especially Robert L. Ripley’s (1890–1949) “Odditorium,” a museum and freak show where human curios collected from all over the world came together in display and live performances.2 Among Ripley’s various “curioddities” – strange effigies, tattooed and pierced people, strongmen, “wild” women, and “Siamese” twins – who exhibited at the Odditorium, was the marvelous “Man with the Steel Hands:” Canadian Andrew A. Gawley (1875–1961), whose flesh hands were replaced by steel grips he forged himself.

As was typical of Ripley’s curioddities, Gawley was featured in Believe It Or Not! cartoons to enhance public curiosity. One cartoon illustrates a bespectacled Gawley seated at a table in the process of writing. Sticking out from his shirt sleeves are strangely curved mechanical claws with rivets for grasping objects and slots for securing them – such as an ink pen, which Gawley is using. The caption below indicates that he lost his hands in an accident but then replaced them with mechanical ones that enabled him “to eat, write, dress himself – and do practically everything as well as before.”3 Curious readers could witness the marvel for themselves at the second season of the Odditorium, where Gawley would be making his debut. Another cartoon depicts a smiling, mustached Gawley wearing a suit and tie, looking straight at the reader while gracefully lifting a full teacup. His steel hands, the reader is told, “are as delicate as the machinery of a watch, but powerful as a steamfitter’s wrench.”4 Believe it or not – here was a remarkable pair of artificial hands that could be used with astounding skill.

The voyeuristic gaze transformed Gawley into a freakish spectacle, as the fusion of man and technology signified a departure from cultural associations of normalcy. Yet, Gawley’s usage of his steel hands were as much a stylized mode of presentation of normative masculinity as they were a portrayal of freakery. He taught himself to do seemingly ordinary tasks – hold a china teacup, write neatly, shave, dress himself, tie knots, throw or catch a baseball, thread a needle, repair bicycles, drive an automobile, ride a motorcycle, snap steel wires, work in factories – thus defying cultural perceptions of invalidism and dependency commonly associated with disabled people.5 The freakishness of Gawley’s hands then, epitomizes what Rosemarie Garland-Thomson characterizes as the “extraordinary body,” one which becomes “fundamental to the narratives by which we make sense of ourselves and the world.”6 Indeed, as Guy Kirkwood argues, the Believe It Or Not! freakery surrounding Gawley was not the steel hands, but the fact that Gawley constructed them himself, thus idealizing the theme of resourcefulness through technology featured throughout the exposition.7

Gawley’s steel hands are simultaneously unruly objects and tools for conformity to masculine norms. They are mechanical disentanglements from the organic body, disruptions that become visible markers of difference and disability.8 They are also prostheses with ascribed agency, whose meanings are defined through social interactions, especially by reconciling “the misfits of disabled bodies with the rhythms and forms of modern life,” as Elizabeth Guffey asserts.9 For Gawley, this reconciliation imposed new dynamics between his body and prostheses to achieve functional normalcy, in that his actions and self-presentations were not only premised on ability – to work, be self-sufficient, and productive – but additionally illuminate complex tensions of unruliness to represent a fraught epistemological materiality. The steel hands are not mere objects for asserting autonomy: they are a historical production of disability and masculinity, one that is placed within broader social spaces that circulate and maintain ideals of normative masculinities.10

To analyze the associations between Gawley and his prostheses, this paper draws on the “design model of disability” proposed by Guffey and Bess Williamson to examine how unruliness characterizes the way knowledge-making processes are entrenched in disability experience. Identifying disability technologies through categories of ability, function, and normalcy, this model conceptualizes disability experience “through function in the material” rather than static physiological pathology.11 With the design model, the focus is not on bodily cure or rehabilitation, but rather on the relationship between the body and the object, as well as the agency or identity that emerges from that relationship. The model also enables us to conceptualize unruly objects through the deeply contextual choices that user-designers make, including how wearing a prosthesis requires the user to perform distinctly gendered social conventions, including for work. Indeed, as David Turner and Alun Whitey emphasize, protheses are products of artisanal innovation that present technological solutions as tools “of acceptance, success and social status” useful for restoring disabled bodies to economic productivity.12

Gawley’s prostheses are physical, tangible representations of his experiences, with their material traces of disability reminding us of “the persistence of physical variation as well as its social nature.”13 They additionally outline an approach for examining the broader Canadian history of prostheses, which is underexplored in comparison to American and British scholarship, and predominantly centered on the development of mobility technologies after the Second World War and polio epidemics of the 1950s – most notably Mary Tremblay’s work on the impact of wheelchairs for veterans and survivors of spinal cord injuries – and on the 1960s institutional research projects on myoelectric limb systems that expanded in response to the thalidomide tragedy.14 Examining objects designed and used by disabled people encourages us to craft narratives that are more than voyeuristic glances into bodily difference, reflect on how disabled experiences pervade the forces of power and privilege, and negotiate boundaries of agency that structure relationships between historical actors.15 The associations between disability, labor, masculinity, and freakery embedded in the steel hands thus reflect how Gawley grappled with the materialities of his world to constantly circulate and maintain his assertions of functional normalcy through a symbiotic bond between his body and his prostheses. The steel hands are not mere objects of curiosity used to mark difference, but unruly things that reduce the grotesque to familiarize the unfamiliar. After all, they are not “normal” hands in appearance but become “normal” only in their use, managed by Gawley’s masterful integration of steel to flesh.

1 Material Malleability

The accident that resulted in Andrew Gawley’s hands being amputated was a common occurrence in the nineteenth-century industrial world. As Sarah Rose affirms, industrialization took a toll on workers’ bodies such that “missing fingers, crushed limbs, blinded eyes, or weakened lungs” were perceived as an anticipated, if not feared, outcome of an industry where accidents, falls, and ceiling collapses were hazardous conditions that workers risked daily.16 Injuries and impairments were common enough that workers often continued laboring with their bodily limitations to avoid being marginalized as unproductive “cripples.”17

Gawley was twenty years old when he began working at his father’s – Royal Gawley (1842–1926) – sawmill located at the hamlet of Spry, west of Lion’s Head on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada. While operating a circular buzz saw, Gawley removed a board and was in the process of returning with another piece of lumber when he tripped; falling forward, he put out his hands to maintain his balance, only to have them caught in the saw.18 His hands were terribly mangled. Attempting to get him immediate care, Gawley’s co-workers rushed him to a drugstore in the town of Lion’s Head, where druggist George S. Armstrong administered an anesthetic while a physician worked on removing the damaged tissues and controlling the bleeding.19 The injuries, however, were so extensive that Gawley was sent to the nearest hospital in Owen Sound where his hands were eventually amputated up to the forearms.

Recovery was a long, arduous battle against infection and complications. It is unclear how long Gawley’s rehabilitation was, but sometime after the amputation healed, he was provided a pair of prosthetic hands from the hospital. Nor it is clear whether he was supplied with two “natural looking” artificial hands made of wood or a single prosthetic with an iron hook – both common designs at the time tailored to users’ social differences – but he nevertheless found the prostheses insufficient and impossible to manage, for they were designed only for those who lost one hand. Frustrated with his physical limitations upon returning home, Gawley asked his father to assist him with designing more functional prostheses. Royal had become completely blind in the 1870s and prior to establishing his mill, he worked as a craftsman, even supplementing his income by selling a gadget for women to lift pies out of the oven without burning themselves; after he became blind, he frequently gifted the gadget to helpful neighbors.20 With his son’s visual guidance, Royal crafted two wooden hands with hooks for lifting and building simple objects. Another version of the story accounts father and son taking their design to the local blacksmith Sy Kobb, who then created a simple hand for Gawley to hold a pencil and draw out his ideas for a more complicated prosthesis, which Kobb then built.

Whatever the origin story, Gawley’s “steel hands” were far superior to the hospital ones he initially received: cast iron/steel hands with five points of grip attached to a 23-inch leather sleeve with grommets and buckles for securing on the forearms. Iron controls provided different degrees of leverage: two grips were designed to open when Gawley drew his hands towards his body, while the other two grips open when the arms are extended or adjusted sideways.21 Currently, two versions of Gawley’s prostheses – similar in design, but with subtle differences in the complexity of the levers and grips for the “hands” – exist in museum collections (Figs. 1–2).

The (likely) earlier iteration at the Grey Roots Museum & Archives features a metal frame connected to a crude, flat “hand.”22 The artifact at the Meaford Museum, meanwhile, is more intricate: the “hand” is thicker, curved, and hammered to fine points, with brass shading and dark leather sleeves for a sophisticated aesthetic.23 The rough shaping of the curved grips, the tattered straps, and the softening of worn leather become an embodiment of Gawley’s extended self, a form of what Sue Zemka refers to as “technological hybridity,” as levers substituting “for nerves, muscles, and bones,” suspended inside the leather casing, become “the verisimilar flesh.”24


Figure 1

Andrew Gawley’s prosthetic arm with flat “fingers”

Citation: Nuncius 35, 3 (2020) ; 10.1163/18253911-03503008

Grey Roots Museum & Archives, Object ID1973.100.001

Figure 2

Gawley’s prosthetic arm with more refined “fingers”

Citation: Nuncius 35, 3 (2020) ; 10.1163/18253911-03503008

Meaford Museum, Object ID 2019.115.1.

While most nineteenth-century artificial limbs varied in style, make, and materials, prosthetic hands were comparatively limited. The complexity of the human hand, Scottish anatomist Sir Charles Bell (1744–1842) explained, made it mechanically complicated and thus irreproducible; nevertheless, design difficulties did not prevent manufacturers from “making extravagant claims for the utility, beauty, and improvements of their artificial hands,” as Zemka argues.25 In doing so, however, most of their models continued design trends from the early modern period that neglected functionality in favor of natural appearance. The infamous iron hand of the German knight Götz von Berlichingen (1480–1562), for instance, consisted of a glove with leather straps and a thumb and fingers attached to it that could be brought inwards, with spring-loaded mechanisms for locking the fingers into place to hold reins, grip swords, or use a quill. Spring-loaded iron hands were also created by Ambroise Paré (1510–1590) but these customized devices were reserved for wealthy clients.26 Moreover, most of these prostheses were heavy, difficult to maneuver, and still required one functioning hand to assist. Amputees often created their own apparatuses – usually with exchangeable utilities (spoon, knife, comb, razor) – to address their own bodily and social needs, as Private Samuel H. Decker did after losing both arms in an explosion during the American Civil War. Even the expansion of the prosthetic industry and the transnational provision of artificial limbs in the late nineteenth-century did not produce significant variations in design, though the industry did profit from cultural mandates for physical normalcy.27

Gawley’s prosthesis design is remarkably superior to comparable nineteenth-century artificial hands, which, as Katherine Ott points out, had no variable tension or pinch.28 The five points of “fingers,” each with a different size and degree of power, provided Gawley with variability for managing tasks by controlling the strength of the grip. The grommeted closure, brass buckles and strappings were designed for him to place on the forearms independently and to secure the fastenings without tearing or tangling. As Rose argues, it was common for prosthesis wearers to cultivate their own methods of fastening their devices, including by adapting them to their bodies for work – or even, in some instances, adapting their bodies without the prosthesis, as was the case of painter Robert Winthrop, who relied on a method for climbing ladders and stabilizing himself without his artificial leg.29 Once Gawley managed to effectively adapt to the grips, he journeyed around towns selling small items to people to earn his wages; eventually, he obtained steady employment delivering telegrams for the local telegraph office. He continued to perfect his design by improving the push-and-pull limitations of the levers for better ease and control and often centered his prostheses to reduce the visibility of his disability and enhance his functional normalcy. One undated image, for instance, shows Gawley seated at a table, wearing a suit, with his hair nicely coiffed (Fig. 3). On the table there are some papers; in his right hand, he is gripping a fountain pen. The left hand rests on the table, with only the steel fingers visible from his blazer. Exemplifying a gentlemanly stature, Gawley’s demeanor spotlights the normalcy of his prostheses and their successful fusion with his body.


Figure 3

Photograph of Gawley in a suit and seated at a table with a writing instrument in his hand (c. 1900s). The photograph was taken by W.J. McCracken, whose photography studio was open from 1887 to 1915.

Citation: Nuncius 35, 3 (2020) ; 10.1163/18253911-03503008

Meaford Museum (2017.56.1).

As the editors’ introduction to this volume asserts, the unruliness of material objects tends to characterize making and producing by transcribing a process of visualization that merges the multiplicity of individual experiences into the object. With Gawley’s prostheses, we obtain a kaleidoscopic knowledge-making complexity: Gawley, with his disability and youthful eagerness to solve his bodily limitations; Royal Gawley’s blindness and tacit knowledge; and Kobb’s blacksmithing expertise. Collectively, their expertise embodies ideals of good craftmanship, which, with regard to prosthesis design, are not always only about ensuring usefulness, for the “device also had to fit properly and be matched in design, function, weight, and other aspects with the particular needs and characteristics of the patient,” as Guy Hasegawa argues.30 Prostheses then, make normative social participation feasible, paving the way for self-sufficiency and economic independence, thus distancing the amputee from associations of dependency and incapacity.

2 Emphasizing Masculinity

To his neighbors, Gawley exemplified the ideal model of self-sufficiency, his employability serving as an “example for the lot of the fellows loafing around these days on relief who seem unable to help themselves.”31 In Victorian Ontario, disability was commonly identified with poor, working class children and male workers injured on the job who were presumed to be unproductive and dependent on charity. Such associations crucially shaped expectations for working class laborers to seek ways to mitigate the destructive effects of industrialization while asserting their self-determination and financial security.32 As John Williams-Searle explains, “permanent, catastrophic injuries had the potential to do more than sever limbs or digits; they could rob a man of the ability to shape his destiny.”33 While fraternalism and other forms of mutual aid provided support for skilled tradesmen who could adapt their physical impairments for work, disabled workers whose bodies were perceived as “non-working” were nevertheless considered lacking “the capacity and will for agency,” as Dustin Galer argues.34 The connections between worker identity and physical ability also meant that disabled and injured workers who became economically dependent on others thus perceived the loss of their economic productivity or wage erosion as a failure to articulate their masculinity.

Prostheses could not only restore bodily integrity and functionality, but also enabled men to reclaim a hypermasculine discourse and the appearance of normalcy within civilian spaces. This became all the more crucial during the Great War, as nearly 175,000 disabled veterans returned from the Front with expectations to reestablish themselves quickly into Canadian society. The war-maimed constructed a new constituency of disabled citizens, one that visibly counteracted public images of dependency and focused on “functional re-education”: the retraining of disabled men for employment and the provision of artificial limbs for who needed them.35 As historians have shown, the surge of the prosthetic industry in Canada, Britain, and the United States constructed artificial limbs as an icon of male recuperation, the fragmented and dismembered bodies of the war injured, and a projection of competing cultural norms of masculinity and gendered anxieties about sacrifice, heroism, and duty.36 Positioning Gawley’s steel hands within this broader context of war rehabilitation permits us to examine how prostheses are venerated as key tools for dealing with, and responding to, ideals of masculinity and disability.

The spirit of voluntarism and patriotic fervor that followed the Dominion of Canada’s entry into the Great War was not limited to military service. For those who were unable – or unwilling – to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, they could contribute to the war effort on the home front in agriculture, industry, munitions, and foodstuff production. Though there is no evidence that Gawley attempted to enlist – and at 39 years old at the start of the war, he would have been approaching the conscription maximum age of 45 – he fits within the category of what Nic Clarke refers to as the “unwanted warriors:” volunteers who were rejected on moral or medical grounds and left virtually nonexistent in collective memories of the war. Like numerous other men unable to don army gear, Gawley took up a new trade to contribute to wartime production, journeying 200 kilometers east of the Bruce Peninsula to join 650 workers at the Fisher Motor Company in Orillia, Ontario, to work on building ambulance parts and munitions. Gawley operated the drill press, using his steel hands to lift 45 lb drilling shell adapters with relative ease, the only employee, according to the company manager, to lift them from the machine with one hand.37

The marvel of a man with steel hands working in a factory to contribute to the war effort did not go unnoticed. Newspaper articles emphasized Gawley’s ingenuity in doing with his steel hands “almost anything that an ordinary man can do,” drawing parallels to disabled veterans’ civil re-establishment and their need to avoid succumbing to “unmanly idleness.”38 Kellen Kurschinski argues that like its international allies, the objective of Canada’s war rehabilitation program was to propel veterans towards self-sufficiency: “Disability was only a badge of honour if a solider had the determination to overcome it and retain economic independence.”39 Images of disabled workers featured in popular literature, rehabilitation pamphlets and government posters became crucial for propagating standards of masculine normalcy, as advertisements of personal triumph over disability. So too, did stories of disabled citizens. The trade magazine American Machinist featured an article and photographs of Gawley at work at the Fisher Motor Company.40 One photo documents a close-up of his right prosthesis delicately gripping a shell adapter set on a counter, with Gawley’s sleeve pulled down to signify the ordinariness of the prosthesis, thus creating what David Serlin refers to as a “civilized” image, used to reduce “the otherwise painful and traumatic representations of amputees and prosthesis wearers that were displayed in public.”41 The second photo captures Gawley at work, with his left hand placing a shell and the right operating the drill press; this photo comes across as performative, meant to draw in on Gawley’s masculinity and produce a stark contrast with images of disability associated with dependency or invalidism (Fig. 4). It resembles the patriotically charged images of veterans operating industrial machinery or working in the fields that were used in the postwar years to convey the importance of rehabilitation.

American Machinist additionally noted that spotlighting Gawley served to accentuate the needs for effective artificial arms and hands, which was “felt not only by war cripples, but by the many who have lost their members in industrial pursuits.”42 Following the British and American leads, the Canadian government pledged to support veterans by supplying them with prostheses through the Military Hospitals Commission, including covering costs related to manufacture, fitting, and replacements.43 While the American commercial market was abounded with manufacturers of artificial limbs competing for government contracts, few limb fitters and artificial limb manufacturers were available in Canada prior to the war. Shortages of prostheses from England prompted the Commission to establish its own factory, the first of which opened in Toronto in July 1916. Allison Kirk-Montgomery and Shelley McKellar argue that this decision was driven by the fact there were no artificial limb factories in Canada with the capacity to meet quota and that the Commission wanted to reduce the risk of private manufacturers sacrificing quality for profit.44 Indeed, by 1917, the Toronto factory was producing 90 percent of prostheses on the market, made by disabled veterans who were better able to understand the proper fitting and function of the artificial limbs they also wore.45 To centralize their proprietorship, the Commission supplied only one standard type of artificial limb, arguing that it was necessary to “facilitate renewals and repairs of the device for veterans who would be living across the country;” centralization also enabled them to secure up-do-date improvements and modify designs.46


Figure 4

Photograph of Gawley working at the Orillia factory

Citation: Nuncius 35, 3 (2020) ; 10.1163/18253911-03503008

American Machinist, September 20, 1917

Though the Commission’s limbs retailed cheaper than commercial models – arms and legs were $ 71.57 and $ 77.56 each respectively, compared to $ 120 and $ 100 – the limitations in model variation frustrated users.47 It was not unusual for amputees to shop around for more suitable prostheses or to create their own modified designs; some even sought out specific manufacturers after receiving a recommendation or witnessing others successfully adapting to a particular prosthesis. Gawley’s prosthesis – what came to be called as the “Gawley Arm” by customers – for instance, was heralded in newspapers for its intricate design and its functional variability. He had produced iterations of the prosthesis for neighbors prior to the war, but as a journalist commented, given “the large number of soldiers who have lost hands in the war, his invention may prove a real boon to humanity.”48 Demand for the Gawley Arm increased after word spread amongst veterans with hand amputations that Gawley’s prostheses were “more versatile in function than other substitutes,” including the ones provided by the Commission.49 Other user-designers offered their own versions to government-suppled prostheses, such as blacksmith James B. Bowes of Chatsworth, Grey County, who made artificial arms on request that were similar in design to the Gawley Arm. An amputee, Bowes wore a functional artificial left arm when working, replacing it with a rigid hand made out of cork when he wanted to appear more polite or “normal” (Figs. 5–6).

Following the armistice, Gawley left his position at the Fisher Motor Company and settled in the Town of Meaford where he established a bicycle repair and tool-sharpening shop overlooking the Sykes Street Bridge. With his name prominently displayed on the side of the building and a sign saying “Mfr of STEEL HANDS” hung next to the entrance, customers could hardly miss the shop – especially when Gawley conducted repairs out in front. One client, Joshua Dobson of Feversham – a village 40 km south of Meaford – wore his Gawley Arm for ten years and regularly visited the shop for maintenance. In 1921, five men sought out Gawley’s prosthesis after learning that his design was more flexible than the more rigid versions they wore; two of the men, Charles Stone and Fred Mitchell of Stayner, had lost their arms in the war. Despite testimonials that Gawley’s design was a more “natural and useful substitute” than other artificial arms and hands, however, his prosthesis was never mass-produced, since the prosthesis required more time to learn than most users were willing to spend. Nevertheless, Gawley’s – and even Bowes’ – economic citizenship contrasts the experiences of many disabled veterans whose self-worth was weakened from trauma as they returned to a competitive economy where work remained defined by able-bodied men.50


Figure 5

James B. Bowes’ Prosthetic Left Arm

Citation: Nuncius 35, 3 (2020) ; 10.1163/18253911-03503008

Grey Roots Museum & Archives, Object ID #1980.255.011

Figure 6

James B. Bowes’ Mechanical Hand with Cork Fingers

Citation: Nuncius 35, 3 (2020) ; 10.1163/18253911-03503008

Grey Roots Museum & Archives, Object ID #1980.25.009

3 Performing the Freakery

The success Gawley exemplified while doing things that seemed “impossible of accomplishment with an artificial member,” demonstrated that despite disability, one’s manhood could be restored.51 Prostheses served as a promise of that restoration. For veterans who were particularly frustrated with their government-supplied devices, Gawley’s steel hands presented a more optimistic prospect of civil integration. Not all veterans could successfully adjust to civilian life, however. David Gerber argues that while state assistance and pensions were necessary for recovery and rehabilitation of self-sufficiency, it was also “inimical to the independence and self-confidence, and hence the manhood, of the disabled man.”52 Incremental gains towards self-sufficiency did not always translate towards feeling or being perceived as a functionally normal person. Moreover, the Canadian postwar need for a return to normalcy was complicated by general strikes and economic depressions of the early 1920s that further challenged prospects for working class disabled people.

One unconventional avenue for working men to achieve masculine self-reliance was within the carnivalesque space of the modern “freak show:” commercial exhibitions of people with bodily aberrances and “exotic” performers that expanded in popularity during the nineteenth century as a form of amusement and became part of the British and North American cultural landscape until the 1940s.53 These shows explicitly catered to broad audiences whose attraction to voyeuristic forms of entertainment were supplemented with curiosities about human anomalies on display. As John Williams-Searle argues, these shows “helped establish boundaries of social inclusion, allowing spectators to quell their status anxieties by gazing at people” whose bodies had been defined by the ideology of “otherness” and excluded them from the corridors of power: Black people, Indigenous people, disabled people, women, children, and the working class.54 Though performers were certainly exploited and commoditized, they also relied on their extraordinary bodies to dramatize stylized, aggrandized modes of freakery infused with fluid and contested elements of race, gender, ablebodiedness, and sexuality that were not always tied to specific bodily configurations.55 More significantly, performance brought economic security and self-reliance, which Nadja Durbach explains was crucial for disabled working class men – such as Joseph Merrick (1862–1890), who was billed as “The Elephant Man” – to assert their own version of masculine independence and moral worth by demonstrating that they were independent laborers.56

Jane Nicholas has shown that as early as 1919, disabled veterans appeared at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto, Ontario, but unlike the spectacle of freak performers, their bodies were heralded as heroic sacrifices for the nation.57 The complicated nature of masculinity and disability also meant veterans needed to demonstrate their continued productivity for re-establishment, which was required for them to receive pensions.58 Yet as the 1920s and 1930s carnivalesque culture interweaved newer ideals of science, medicine, and normality, the spectacle of extraordinary bodies transformed; as Nicholas elaborates, this transformation placed a positive spin on disability and masculinity by highlighting the performer’s overcoming of their bodily limitations. The “ballyhoo narratives of performers,” then became less about their fantastical nature and more about their abilities – what they could to, how they could be productive, despite their disability – and yet still, freak performers were continuously perceived more often as commodities than as legitimate workers.59

Positioning Gawley within this stage offers a more nuanced approach for examining the sensationalism of his steel hands. While it is uncertain how Robert Ripley initially discovered Gawley, it is possible that the Canadian media’s numerous features on Gawley’s achievement caught his attention.60 In May 1934, Ripley invited Gawley to join the Odditorium as a regular performer, promising a good salary and railroad fare from Meaford to Chicago. Gawley turned down the offer, preferring “his little machine shop here to Chicago’s bright lights,” since his business was thriving despite the Depression.61 Moreover, as he told journalists, he was busy with a backlog of orders for steel hands that would take him approximately a year to fulfill; a week later, he reconsidered and headed down to Chicago to join the show.

Much of Gawley’s performance required him to demonstrate the various tasks he could do with his prostheses – picking up a teacup, writing, and lifting heavy objects – to juxtapose normality with freakery. The ordinariness of his act, which was performed with his extraordinary prostheses, emphasized the range of possibilities that became feasible when technology could be engineered to transcend bodily limitations. Whatever limitations Gawley faced as a double-amputee, his ingenuity, ambition, and conformity to normative masculinity, was itself a performance: the steel hands become an allegory for national rehabilitation and since Gawley’s biography was central to his performance, they also serve as an acknowledgement of the hazards of industrialization.62 Yet, Gawley’s presentation is carefully crafted to showcase his functional normalcy and the power relationships emboldened by the freakery gaze cast upon his images.63 His official Ripley’s souvenir card, for instance, depicts both him and performer Earl Hall in their respective talents: Gawley is seated in a suit and tie, smiling confidently while raising a teacup in his right hand while holding cutlery in the other above a dinner plate. Meanwhile, Hall, who could smoke a cigarette an exhale it through his back, is captured in a side profile so we can see the smoke being released from his body (Fig. 7).


Figure 7

Souvenir postcard of Gawley and Earl Hall, Ripley’s Odditorium performers

Citation: Nuncius 35, 3 (2020) ; 10.1163/18253911-03503008

Courtesy of Meaford Museum

In contrast, in a publicity studio photograph, Gawley is featured standing, wearing a suit and tie, staring at the camera with a slice grimace, and lifting a 250 lb Ford engine block with his right hand (Fig. 8). At first glance, it appears the prostheses that seem to give him abnormal – even superhuman strength – but Gawley’s somewhat relaxed and causal body language testifies to his masculine virility. Steel hands or not, his manhood is not threatened by his disability.


Figure 8

Gawley lifting a Ford engine block

Citation: Nuncius 35, 3 (2020) ; 10.1163/18253911-03503008

Photo by Thomas F. Riley, Meaford Museum, Photograph Collection 2010.15.14.62

Gawley undoubtedly capitalized on the novelty of the sideshow, earning more than he could working at his own shop.64 After the World’s Fair in Chicago closed, “The Man with the Steel Hands” continued to appear at other Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditoriums throughout the 1930s, including in Chicago, Dallas, and Cleveland, travelling during the summer months, and returning to Meaford to work at the shop for the remainder of the year. In 1942, Gawley joined the Canadian-based Conklin Shows, where he was featured in advertisements as a man who “overcome [sic] a great handicap.”65 Originally a multi-year contract signed in 1937 between the CNE and James Wesley “Patty” Conklin (1892–1970) to manage the midway fairgrounds, by the 1940s the Conklin Shows became the largest travelling amusement corporation, appearing at multiple agriculture fairs in Canada and the United States. Rather than retaining a travelling troupe, Patty Conklin contracted out independent performers – including Gawley, who was often seen riding his bicycle to and from the fairgrounds.66 Gawley’s regular appearances even caught the attention of the Newsreel Motion Picture Company of New York, and subsequently was documented in more than 600 ft of film, showcasing how he used his steel hands for daily activities, including chopping wood, using the telephone, and firing a shotgun.67 Yet it seems for Gawley, his acts were not simply performances, but assessments of his successful integration and self-reliance, that is, he could choose to end the act and separate himself from the carnival. For instance, when he recognized his Canadian neighbors in the audience during his show, he would afterwards invite them to “go behind the scenes and meet the sword swallower, the fire eater, [and] the man who could sleep on a board of nails,” so they could perceive the performers apart from their stage personas and, thus, avoid also reducing him to his freakery.68

The unruliness of the steel hands, however, often trumped Gawley’s own identity. For instance, in one autograph, a message is carefully written: “The thing that goes the farthest/Towards making life worthwhile/That costs the least, and does the most/Is just a pleasant smile. Written by my steel hand, Andrew A Gawley, Meaford Ontario.”69 That the autograph is signed by “my steel hand” before Gawley’s own name indicates just how prominent the prostheses were to his identity and the novelty of a viewer watching Gawley write. In another example, the steel hands become the hero in what could have been a disastrous accident. On March 3, 1939 the Toronto Daily Star reported that a blind horse name Jack became spooked and dashed for two hundred yards before crashing into a steel guard rail and somersaulting down a 75 ft embankment into the Bighead River in Grey County, Ontario. Jack’s owner, sixty-year-old grocer Harry Pitts of Meaford, was thrown clear and landed three feet from the riverbank.70 Nearby men rushed to the scene, including Gawley, who climbed down the bank to save the unconscious grocer. The headline read “STEEL HANDS SAVE GROCER WHEN BLIND HORSE BOLTS,” thereby giving the prostheses agency while inadvertently erasing Gawley.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gawley stayed in Meaford, working in his shop doing repairs and filling orders for the Gawley Arm. Sources indicate that he also spent several months in Orillia working in a munitions factory to contribute to the war effort, breaking for the summer to travel with the Ripley’s Summertime Show. He additionally made multiple tours across the United States and Mexico as a feature in Ripley’s International Exposition of “Round the World Oddities,” as well as the Conklin Shows in Western Canada and the Maritimes. By 1948, he ceased touring, settling in Meaford in an apartment above his shop. On February 16 of that year, the shop inexplicably burnt to the ground and was eventually rebuilt. He remained a bachelor and an active member of the United Church, the Meaford Orange Lodge, and the Meaford Black Knights, known by many of his neighbors as “Andy,” an energetic, yet quiet and splendid person. He also occasionally offered his home as a safe haven for battered women fleeing their husbands, and made toys out of recycled materials – oil tins, wooden spools, jar lids – for the neighborhood children.71 In June 1952, his shop suffered another fire, barely allowing enough time for a refugee mother and three young children who lived there to escape. Gawley repaired the shop again, living and working there until he moved to the White Manor Nursing Home in Owen Sound in December 1961. He died a week later on Christmas Day, at the age of eighty-six. His obituary described him as “Andrew Gawley: Overcome Handicaps to Become Useful Citizen.”72

4 Conclusion

On Thursday April 24, 2014, the Meaford Community Theatre debuted a production of Andrew Gawley: The Man with Steel Hands before a sold-out audience. Written by Harley Greenfield, the Meaford Deputy Mayor, the story chronicles Gawley’s life as perceived through Greenfield’s childhood memories, interviews with locals, and archival research. Yet the narrative is heavily centered on Gawley’s “overcoming,” in that he resisted the tragic fate imposed by his accident, by creating prostheses that restored his sense of self to achieve success. Or, as described by a neighbor: “I expected to encounter a fearsome monster with steel hands. I learned the only thing ‘steely’ about him was his determination and his strong desire to protect those more unfortunate than himself.”73 The marvel of Gawley’s positivity, his generous nature, and his interactions with his neighbors are the heart of the play – they testify to the “genuine feel of it all,” as a reviewer described, in that the play had no ambition to be anything more than a celebration of one of Meaford’s beloved citizens.74

The legacy of Gawley’s steel hands, however, demonstrates that disability objects are not always medicalized objects. The way he interacted with his prostheses cannot adequately be understood through the medical paradigm of rehabilitation, even as his story was appropriated in newspapers and trade magazines to convey the importance of veterans’ re-establishment. The user-centered features of his design indicates that the variability of disabled people’s needs and controls over their bodies that cannot always be reduced to a one-size-fits-all prostheses. Centering disability design by disabled people provides a richer, and more nuanced approach for historical and material cultural analysis of prostheses. The steel hands are things that, as Sophie Thomas writers, are caught by and in moments of transitions that “also reflect a change in our relation to the unruliness of things – a change that can be historically located.”75 They are physical, tangible representations of how Gawley adjusted his body to navigate through his environment to meet social expectations for economic self-reliance; in so doing, he not only distanced himself from associations of disability with dependency, but also served as an exemplar for masculine normality. Neither the double amputation nor the protheses, as media reports regularly indicated, prevented him from working or being a respected citizen. Nor did his carnivalesque freakery, for in juxtaposing the spectacle of steel hands with their ordinary usage, Gawley’s bodily performance became one of resourcefulness. Moreover, the fact that Gawley created his prostheses as a response to his dissatisfaction over other available models, indicates how for him, they were not necessarily objects for curing his body and passing as “normal,” but literal tools for doing, making, and working. Put simply, the steel hands for Gawley, were constructed as a “fix” for problems that were more social than medical.76

5 Acknowledgments

I am immensely grateful to Jody Seeley and Karen Cantoni at the Meaford Museum, and Sim Salata, Joan Hyslop, and Kate Jackson at the Grey Roots Museum & Archives for their remarkable research assistance. Thanks to Meghan Doherty, Lucia Dacome, Geoff Bil, and the journal’s anonymous reviewers, whose editorial guidance and comments significantly improved this paper.


“Man with Steel Hands can Thread Needle or Compete with Professional Strong Men,” The Vancouver Sun, October 4, 1924, p. 2.


Cheryl R. Ganz, The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012), p. 11.


Meaford Museum, Robert L. Ripley, “Believe It Or Not –” Kings Features Syndicate Inc., cartoon clipping (1934).


Robert L. Ripley, “Believe It Or Not –” cartoon, The Salt Lake Tribune, July 19, 1936, p. 27.


“Man with ‘Steel Hands’ works daily on artificial limbs for other ‘cripples,’ ” The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, April 11, 1934, p. 1.


Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Introduction: From Wonder to Error – A Genealogy of Freak Discourse in Modernity,” in Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body, edited by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (New York: New York University Press, 1996), p. 1.


Guy C.M. Kirkwood, Performing Freakery: American Freak Shows, Popular Culture, and Regimes of Normalisation in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (PhD Diss., The University of Western Australia, 2018), pp. 286–287.


Bret L. Rothstein, The Shape of Difficulty: A Fan Letter to Unruly Objects (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2019).


Elizabeth Guffey, Designing Disability: Symbols, Space and Society (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), p. 3; Rebecca Kluchin, “Gender, the Body, and Disability,” in The Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History, edited by Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor, Lisa G. Materson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 305.


David Serlin, “Introduction,” in Phallacies: Historical Intersections of Disability and Masculinity, edited by Kathleen M. Brian, James W. Trent Jr. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 3.


Elizabeth Guffey, Bess Williamson, “Introduction: Rethinking Design History through Disability, Rethinking Disability through Design,” in Making Disability Modern: Design Histories, edited by Elizabeth Guffey, Bess Williamson (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2020), p. 5.


David M. Turner, Alun Withey, “Technologies of the Body: Polite Consumption and the Correction of Deformity in Eighteenth-Century England,” History, 2014, 99/338:775–796, p. 781.


Bess Williamson, Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design (New York: New York University Press, 2019), p. 5.


Mary Tremblay, “Going Back to Civvy Street: A Historical Account of the Impact of the Everest and Jennings Wheelchair for Canadian World War II Veterans with Spinal Cord Injuries,” Disability and Society, 1996, 11/2:149–170; Leah Morton, ‘It has impacted our lives in great measure’: Families, Patients, and Health Care during Manitoba’s Polio Era, 1928–1953 (PhD Diss., University of Manitoba, 2013); David J.A. Foord, Peter Kyberd, “From Design to Research: Upper Limb Prosthetic Research and Development in Canada, 1960–2000,” Scientia Canadensis: Canadian Journal of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, 2015, 28/1:50–71; David J.A. Foord, Peter Kyberd, “Ideas and Networks: The Rise and Fall of Research Bodies for Powered Artificial Arms in America and Canada, 1945–1977,” Scientia Canadensis: Canadian Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, 2015, 38/2:35–56; Christine Chisholm, Life After the Scandal: Thalidomide, Family, and Rehabilitation in Modern Canada, 1958–1990 (PhD Diss., Carleton University, 2019). See also: Shaelyn Ryan, “Getting a Leg Up: A Brief History of Prosthetics through the Lens of our Collection,” Museum of Health Care at Kingston Blog (18 June 2019). (accessed 16 Nov. 2020).


Katherine Ott, “Disability Things: Material Culture and American Disability History, 1700–2010,” in Disability Histories, edited by Susan Burch, Michael Rembis (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), pp. 119–135: 119.


Sarah Rose, No Right to be Idle: The Invention of Disability, 1840s–1930s (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017), p. 11.


Dustin Galer, “A Friend in Need or a Business Indeed?: Disabled Bodies and Fraternalism in Victorian Ontario,” Labor/Le Travail, 2010, 66:9–36, p. 10.


The Owen Sound Advertiser, July 19, 1895. Special thanks to Kate Jackson for uncovering this source. Joan Hyslop at the Grey Roots Museum & Archives observes that this accident is especially unusual as rural logging and sawmilling in northern Ontario tended to be winter activities (personal correspondence, 6 March 2010).


“Made Steel Hands to Avoid Charity,” Edmonton Journal, April 18, 1934, p. 9.


Glen C. Hepburn (ed.), Benchmarks: A History of Eastnor Township and Lion’s Head (Eastnor: Eastnor & Lion’s Head Historical Society, 1987), p. 479.


“Man with ‘Steel Hands’ Works Daily,” (cit. note 5).


Grey Roots Museum & Archives, Andrew Gawley prosthetic hand, Object ID 1973.109.001. This artifact is displayed at the new “Voices of Grey” exhibit at the museum (opened 13 March 2020).


Meaford Museum, Andrew Gawley prosthetic hand, Object ID 2019.115.1.


Sue Zemka, “1822, 1845, 1869, 1893, and 1917: Artificial Hands,” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History, edited by Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. (accessed 16 Nov. 2020).


Zemka, “Artificial Hands” (cit. note 24). See also: Laurel Daen, “ ‘A Hand for the One-Handed:’ Prosthesis User-Inventors and the Market for Assistive Technology in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain,” in Rethinking Modern Prostheses in Anglo-American Commodity Cultures, 1820–1939, edited by Claire L. Jones (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017), pp. 93–113.


Heidi Hause, “The Locksmith, the Surgeon, and the Mechanical Hand: Communicating Technical Knowledge in Early Modern Europe,” Technology and Culture, 2019, 60/1:34–64.


Caroline Lieffers, “ ‘Happiness and Usefulness Increased’: Consuming Ability in the Antebellum Artificial Limb Market,” in Disability and the Victorians: Attitudes, Interventions, Legacies, edited by Iain Hutchison, Martin Atherton, Jaipreet Virdi (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020), pp. 126–142; Ryan Sweet, “ ‘Get the best article in the market’: Prostheses for Women in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Commerce,” in Rethinking Modern Prostheses (cit. note 25), pp. 114–136; Edward Slavishak, “Artificial Limbs and Industrial Workers’ Bodies in Turn-of-the-Century Pittsburgh,” Journal of Social History, 2003, 37/2:365–388.


Katherine Ott, “The Sum of its Parts: An Introduction to Modern Histories of Prosthetics,” in Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics, edited by Katherine Ott, David Serlin, Stephen Mihm (New York: New York University Press, 2002), pp. 1–42: 20.


Rose, No Right to be Idle (cit. note 16), p. 115.


Guy R. Hasegawa, Mending Broken Soldiers: The Union and Confederate Programs to Supply Artificial Limbs (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), p. 6.


“Made Steel Hands to Avoid Charity,” Edmonton Journal, April 18, 1934, p. 9.


Craig Heron, Working Lives: Essays in Canadian Working-Class History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018), p. 11.


John Williams-Searle: “Cold-Charity: Manhood, Brotherhood, and the Transformation of Disability, 1870–1900,” in The New Disability History: American Perspectives, edited by Paul K. Longmore, Lauri Umansky (New York-London: New York University Press, 2001), p. 159.


Galer, “Disabled Bodies and Fraternalism” (cit. note 17), p. 3.


Ruby Heap, “ ‘Salvaging War’s Waste’: The University of Toronto and the ‘Physical Reconstruction’ of Disabled Soldiers during the First World War,” in Ontario Since Confederation: A Reader, edited by Edgar-André Montigny, Lori Chambers (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000), p. 220.


Magdalena Paluszkiewicz-Misiaczek, “The Soldier’s Return: The Canadian WWI Veteran Care System,” Bialostockie Teki Historyczne, 2017, 15:179–203; Kellen Kurschinski, Steve Marti, Alicia Robinet, Matt Symes, Jonathan F. Vance (eds.), The Great War: From Memory to History (Brantford: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015); Beth Linker, War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Julie Anderson, War, Disability and Rehabilitation in Britain: ‘Soul of a Nation’ (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011); Mark Osborne Humphries, “War’s Long Shadow: Masculinity, Medicine and the Gendered Politics of Trauma, 1914–1939,” Canadian Historical Review, 2010, 91/3:503–531; Michael J. Lasing, “ ‘Salvaging the Man Power of America’: Conservation, Manhood, and Disabled Veterans during World War I,” Environmental History, 2009, 14:32–57; Wendy Jane Gagen, “Remastering the Body, Renegotiating Gender: Physical Disability and Masculinity during the First World War, the Case of J.B. Middlebrook,” European Review of History – Revue européenne d’ histoire, 2007, 14/4:525–541; Ana Carden-Coyne, “Ungrateful Bodies: Rehabilitation, Resistance and Disabled American Veterans of the First World War,” European Review of History – Revue européenne d’ histoire, 2007, 14/4:543–564; Joanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain, and the Great War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Desmond Morton, Glenn Wright, Winning the Second Battle: Canadian Veterans and the Return to Civilian Life, 1915–1930 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987).


“Orillia Man Made His Own Hands: They are Steel and he can do Practically Anything with them,” The Canadian Echo, May 2, 1917.


John M. Kinder, Paying with their Bodies: American War and the Problem of the Disabled Veteran (Chicago-London: University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 117.


Kellen Kurschinski, State, Service, and Survival: Canada’s Great War Disabled, 1914–44 (PhD Diss., McMaster University, 2014), p. 30.


“A Machinist with Steel Hands,” American Machinist, July 1917, p. 1033; “Steel Hands for Machinists,” American Machinist, September 1917, p. 500.


David Serlin, “Engineering Masculinity: Veterans and Prosthetics after World War Two,” in Artificial Parts, Practical Lives (cit. note 28), p. 67.


“A Machinst with Steel Hands” (cit. note 40), p. 1033.


Kurschinski, State, Service, and Survival (cit. note 39), p. 119; Paluszkiewicz-Misiaczek, “The Soldier’s Return” (cit. note 36), p. 187.


Allison Kirk-Montgomery, Shelley McKellar, “Replicating Form and Function: Artificial Body Parts,” in Medicine and Technology in Canada, 1900–1950 (Ottawa: Transformation Series, Canada Science and Technology Museum, 2008), pp. 111–123.


Kurschinski, State, Service, and Survival (cit. note 39), p. 118.


Kirk-Montgomery, McKellar, “Replicating Form and Function” (cit. note 44), p. 112.


Ibid., p. 113.


“Orillia Man Made His Own Hands” (cit. note 37).


“Concerning the Hand,” The Montreal Gazette, April 14, 1917, p. 12.


Serlin, “Engineering Masculinity” (cit. note 41), p. 46; Peter Neary, On to Civvy Street: Canada’s Rehabilitation Program for Veterans in the Second World War (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011), p. 15; John M. Kinder, “Marketing Disabled Manhood: Veterans and Advertising since the Civil War,” in Phallacies (cit. note 10), p. 102.


“Works With Steel Hands,” Hardware Dealers’ Magazine, October 1917, p. 772.


David A. Gerber, “Disabled Veterans, the State, and the Experience of Disability in Western Societies, 1914–1950,” Journal of Social History, 2003, 36/4:899–916, p. 901.


Andrea Zittlau, “The Freak-Show Act: Science and Spectacle in the Nineteenth Century,” in The Routledge History of Disability, edited by Roy Havens, Ivan Brown, Nancy E. Hansen (New York: Routledge, 2017), pp. 381–391; Helen Davies, Neo-Victorian Freakery: The Cultural Afterlife of the Victorian Freak Show (Houndmill, Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmllian, 2015); Thomas Fahy, Freak Shows and the Modern American Imagination: Constructing the Damaged Body from Willa Cather to Truman Capote (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2006); Rachel Adams, Sideshow, U.S.A., Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (ed.), Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body (New York: New York University Press, 1996); Jennifer Terry, Jacqueline Urla (eds.), Deviant Bodies (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995); Robert Bogdan, Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).


Williams-Searle, “Cold-Charity” (cit. note 33), p. 179.


Guy C.M. Kirkwood, “Freak Show Portraiture and the Disenchantment of the Extraordinary Body,” Australasian Journal of American Studies, 2017, 36/1:3–42; Fiona Pettit, “The Afterlife of Freak Shows,” in Popular Exhibitions, Science and Showmanship, 1840–1910, edited by Joe Kember, John Plunkett, Jill A. Sullivan (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), pp. 61–78.


Nadja Durbach, Spectacle of Deformity: Freak Shows and Modern British Culture (Berkley: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 34, 47.


Jane Nicholas, “Scales of Manliness: Masculinity and Disability in the Displays of Little People as Freaks in Ontario, 1900s–50s,” in Making Men, Making History: Canadian Masculinities Across Time and Place, edited by Peter Grossage, Robert Rutherdale (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2018), pp. 175–194.


Morton, Wright, Winning the Second Battle (cit. note 36), p. 56. They were also required to demonstrate attributability, in that their disability resulted from injuries obtained on active service.


Jane Nicholas, Canadian Carnival Freaks and the Extraordinary Body, 1900–1970s (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018), p. 136.


Grey Roots Museum & Archives, “Andrew F. Gawley Lost Hands at 17; Is Expert Mechanic,” newspaper clipping (1933), File PF378S1F1I20.


“Won’t Show Steel Hands at Chicago,” The Windsor Star, May 22, 1935, p. 25.


David Serlin, Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), p. 2.


Jane Nicholas, “A Debt to the Dead? Ethics, Photography, History, and the Study of Freakery,” Histoire sociale/Social History, 2014, 47/93:139–155, p. 143.


“Andrew Gawley at the Century of Progress, World’s Fair, Chicago,” The Meaford Mirror, July 21, 1934.


Nicholas, Canadian Carnival Freaks (cit. note 59), p. 138.


Ibid., p. 66.


“Chops Wooed With Steel Hands,” Modern Mechanix and Inventions, July 1934; “The Man with Steel Hands,” San Francisco Examiner, September 30, 1934, p. 78.


Alexander Beith Gardiner, Beith Remembers (Owen Sound: A.B. Gardiner, 1981), p. 131.


Meaford Museum, Gawley autograph, undated.


STEEL HANDS SAVE GROCER WHEN BLIND HORSE BOLTS,” The Toronto Daily Star, March 3, 1939, p. 21.


Meaford Museum, Scott Woodhouse, “The Man with the Iron Hands,” Meaford Express clipping (n.d.), One of the toys Gawley made, a train made of a recycled bread tin and thread spools, is in the Meaford Museum collection.


Meaford Museum, Meaford Express clipping, undated.


Meaford Museum, Fred D. Johnson, oral history interview; documents relating to Andrew Gawley.


“Andrew Gawley: The Man with Steel Hands’ Honours Citizens, Delights Audience,” Meaford Independent, April 29, 2014. (accessed 16 Nov. 2020).


Sophie Thomas, “ ‘Things on Holiday:’ Collections, Museums, and the Poetics of Unruliness,” European Romantic Review, 2009, 20/2:167–175, p. 173.


Coreen McGuire, Measuring Difference, Numbering Normal: Setting the Standards for Disability in the Interwar Period (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020).

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