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Zimmer, Inc.

Our History

History of Innovation


In the beginning, Justin O. Zimmer was angry when he came home that night in 1926. He had been national sales manager for a Warsaw, Indiana, splint company for about five years and had sold the firm’s splints for 20 years. He knew the market and could recognize a good idea, even if his employer could not.

When he suggested the company add aluminum splints to the line, and asked again if he could buy an interest in the company, the widow of the company’s founder had given him a reply that he could not forget. “I have had it,” Mr. Zimmer told his wife and daughter that evening. “She said to me: ‘You know, Justin, you are just small potatoes!’” With a challenge like that, Mr. Zimmer knew there was no other way except to start a splint manufacturing business of his own.

Small potatoes indeed!

His new company quickly outsold the old firm and gained market leadership in its first year of business. Today, Zimmer is a world leader in orthopaedics, employs nearly 8,500 people serving 100 countries, and offers more than 100,000 products.

In those waning days of 1926, however, “No one but my father thought the business could succeed,” Mr. Zimmer’s daughter recalled. “My mother was opposed, as were my grandparents.” Even Mr. Zimmer hedged his bets somewhat. Rather than risk his life savings, he found two investors, William Felkner and William Rogers, who were willing to put up the cash and give him a one-third interest for his experience and knowledge of the business.

Staffing the company

To staff the company, Mr. Zimmer, in his autobiography, recalls: “Before I considered starting Zimmer Manufacturing Company, I made certain that I could count on the services of Mr. J.J. Ettinger to act as factory manager and Dona Belle Harmon Cox as secretary and bookkeeper.”

Judging by Ettinger’s reply, it wasn’t the first time Mr. Zimmer had raised the question. Recalling the fateful conversation in a newspaper interview many years later, Ettinger said he told Mr. Zimmer, “I’ve tried to talk you out of this before, but this time I’ll go with you.”

Mrs. Cox was Mr. Zimmer’s secretary at the time. “He asked me if I’d like the idea of running the office and I said I would be glad for the opportunity,” she recalled in a 1987 interview. “So I got an accountant in town to set up the books. I was the only one in the office for about the first three months.”

Early 1927

In early 1927, Mr. Zimmer’s daughter recalled, the basement of the Zimmer house at Winona Avenue and Indiana Street -- where she had been accustomed to roller skating -- suddenly was full of machinery. She would often watch as her father, Ettinger, and Dr. C.F. Lytle (a physician and sales colleague of Mr. Zimmer at the older firm) worked to develop a new line of aluminum splints and other orthopaedic equipment. By May, a display of samples was ready for the 1927 American Medical Association meeting in Washington, D.C., and soon thereafter, a catalog of 50 aluminum splints was available for the nine-person sales force.

The basement operations were only temporary, however, Zimmer had rented space in a building on North Detroit Street, and soon the new splint company was in full swing there. The factory’s initial equipment, as recalled later by Ettinger, was only a punch press, sheet metal forming equipment, a welding torch and various small tools such as hammers and tin snips. Profits from the first few years were used for new machinery and to build the business.

Mr. Zimmer’s judgment correct

The new line’s popularity quickly proved Mr. Zimmer’s judgment correct. The new company had sales of $160,000 during the first seven months of operation -- an astounding total that outstripped the sales of the older firm the year before.

The first challenge for the new company was not selling the line, but to making enough to keep the customers happy. Local “experts” had predicted when Zimmer opened its doors that the demand for splints could not support two companies, and one or both would fail. “How wrong they were!” Ettinger said.

The growing orthopaedic field carried the new firm through the Depression years of the early ’30s, with no layoffs and only two weeks of shortened hours. In fact, Ettinger later recalled, the shop worked overtime during the Bank Holiday of 1933, manufacturing a large shipment for several New York City hospitals.

Milestones: 1800's

  • 1829 - H.S. Levert begins the first studies to determine the suitability of implant materials, testing silver, gold, lead, and platinum, in dogs.
  • 1870 - British surgeon Joseph Lister introduces aseptic surgical techniques, which reduced infection and opened the door to all modern surgical practices.
  • 1883 - Surgeon W. A. Lane develops a system of carbon steel screws and plates for internal fixation.
  • 1884 - Justin O. Zimmer is born, August 31, to Milton and Nancy Zimmer on the family farm south of Warsaw, Indiana
  • 1886 - German doctor H. Hansmann becomes the first surgeon to use metal plates for internal fixation.
  • 1890 - Surgeons at the 19th Congress of the German Society of Surgery outline the general concepts for total joint replacement, upon which current practices are still based.
  • 1895 - German scientist Wilhelm Roentgen identifies X-rays, which become a critical diagnostic tool for orthopaedics.
  • 1905 - Mr. Zimmer finishes school to become a Western Union telegraph operator, and on the same day agrees to become a splint salesman for a Warsaw, Indiana firm. During the next two decades Mr. Zimmer will prove to be a highly successful salesman and eventually become the company’s national sales manager.
  • 1907 - Noted Swiss orthopaedist Fritz Steinman introduces a special “pin” around which external fixation devices may be built and through which traction may be applied.

Milestones: 1920 - 1930

  • 1926 - Stainless steel, developed 14 years earlier, is introduced as a corrosion-resistant material for orthopaedic implant devices.
  • 1927 - Mr. Zimmer, with fellow salesman J.J. Ettinger, decide to quit their jobs and form the Zimmer Manufacturing Company. They rent a building in Warsaw, Indiana.
  • 1927 - With design refinements by Dr. C.F. Lytle and aluminum welding innovations by Raymond Zimmer, a cousin, the Zimmer line of 50 aluminum splints debuts at the American Medical Association meeting in May in Washington, D.C. The Zimmer splint becomes an immediate leader in its field.
  • 1928 - Sir Thomas Fleming introduces the powerful antibiotic, penicillin.
  • 1928 - Zimmer introduces the fracture bed, which uses an ingenious system of canvas straps to support the patient while the mattress is lowered to change sheets or bedpans.
  • 1928 - Zimmer achieves sales of $160,000 in its first year.
  • 1929 - Zimmer enters the international market when a Scottish surgeon orders $1,200 worth of splints.

Milestones: 1930 - 1940

  • 1930 - Despite the nation's economic woes, Zimmer annual sales top $200,000. Throughout the Great Depression, Zimmer sales remained steady and the company suffered no layoffs.
  • 1930 - Austrian surgeon Dr. Lorenz Bohler popularizes internal bone fixation devices such as the Steinman pin and the Kirschner nail.
  • 1931 - Zimmer adds the Steinman pin product line, which is still a mainstay in traction and external fixation, along with Kirschner nails, Bohler-Braun splints, and other Bohler devices.
  • 1931 - Boston surgeon Marius Smith-Peterson also develops a metal cup for use in partial hip replacement.
  • 1932 - Sulfa drugs are introduced, adding another key weapon in medicine's arsenal against infection.
  • 1933 - The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is formed in Chicago.
  • 1933 - Zimmer adds a brace department.
  • 1936 - A cobalt alloy is introduced into orthopaedic surgery by Drs. C.S. Venable and W. G. Stuck. It becomes among the most popular alloys in orthopaedic for many years.
  • 1938 - British surgeons perform the first total hip replacement.
  • Late 1930s - Zimmer introduces Dr. Vernon Luck's powered bone saw, with a motor and cord that can be sterilized.
  • Late 1930s - Zimmer responds to polio epidemic by custom fabricating braces to patient measurements.
  • 1939-45 - World War II spurs development of many new materials and surgical techniques later incorporated into orthopaedic use.

Milestones: 1940 - 1950

  • 1940 - Building on Smith-Petersen's work with hip replacement, several surgeons develop femoral mold replacements for the knee.
  • 1942 - Zimmer annual sales top $1 million.
  • 1943 - Dr. P.H. Harmon experiments with acrylic cups for arthroplasty.
  • 1946 - The Judet brothers introduce an acrylic hip prosthesis, which quickly proves to be too weak. Development efforts turn to metal alloys for future prostheses.

Milestones: 1950 - 1960

  • 1950 - Zimmer markets its first hip prosthesis, developed in association with Dr. Palmer Eicher.
  • 1950s - Dr. Paul Harrington begins research for treatment of scoliosis.
  • 1950s - The first titanium-based alloys are developed for implant appliances, as the search for maximum biocompatibility continues.
  • 1951 - Zimmer annual sales top $2 million. Founder J.O. Zimmer dies while vacationing in Florida.
  • 1951 - Several surgeons begin regular installation of stainless steel hips.
  • 1952 - Zimmer introduces a highly successful non-orthopaedic device, the Brown Electro-Dermatome™ Powered Skin Graft Instrument, to the AMA at its annual meeting.
  • 1958 - Zimmer introduces the Harrington® Spinal Instrumentation for treatment of scoliosis.
  • 1959 - British orthopaedic surgeon Sir John Charnley begins his extensive research and innovations in low-friction total hip replacement, first using PTF Polymer cups and later introducing the use of bone cement as grout.
  • 1959 - Work began on what was to become the Snyder Hemovac™ Wound Drainage Device, the predecessor of Zimmer's leading line of closed wound drainage devices. Developed by surgeon Robert T. McElvenney and Hal Snyder, it was manufactured by Snyder Labs and first distributed by Zimmer in 1960.

Milestones: 1960 - 1970

  • 1960 - Zimmer annual sales reach $4 million.
  • Early 1960s - Bone cement materials are refined to be used in long-term fixation.
  • 1967 - Zimmer becomes an international company with the establishment of a formal Export Department.
  • 1968 - Land is purchased for major plant expansion in Warsaw, Indiana.
  • 1968 - First non-hinged total knee unit is developed.
  • 1969 - Zimmer acquires Little Manufacturing Company, a softgoods vendor in North Carolina. This acquisition led the way for expansion of the Patient Care Division of softgoods production.

Milestones: 1970 - 1980

  • 1970 - Zimmer annual sales reach $27.2 million. Employment totals 522 employees.
  • 1970s - Experiments begin on use of porous materials to encourage bone growth around implants.
  • 1971 - Zimmer markets its first metal-plastic combination Charnley-type total hip prosthesis.
  • 1972 - Zimmer becomes a subsidiary of New York-based Bristol-Myers.
  • 1972 - Zimmer becomes the first company to successfully mold polyethylene into a viable orthopaedic product when hip cups from the material are introduced at the AAOS annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
  • 1973 - Zimmer markets its first metal-plastic total knee prosthesis.
  • 1977 - The purchase of Nemoto Shokai, a marketing concern in Japan, helps form the current Zimmer-Japan.
  • 1977 - Zimmer had been the exclusive distributor of Snyder Lab's highly successful wound drainage devices prior to acquiring this Ohio-based company. Snyder Labs later became part of Zimmer Patient Care Division.
  • 1979 - The arrival of CAD/CAM system permits rapid design and evolution on product ideas and gives Zimmer a fully integrated computer system to maximize efficiency and to refine manufacturing quality to state-of-the-art standards.

Milestones: 1980 - 1990

  • 1980s - Improvements on materials and surgical techniques continue. New areas such as arthroscopic surgery and electric bone growth stimulation are refined.
  • 1983 - Zimmer sponsors first-ever arthroscopy telesession. Satellite beams live arthroscopy surgery from Chicago to 27 cities. More than 1,000 surgeons take part in this educational experience.
  • 1983 - Zimmer parent company Bristol-Myers establishes an orthopaedic research grant program with the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation and begins by giving more than $1 million over a four-year span.
  • 1984 - Massachusetts General surgeon Dr. William H. Harris and MIT engineers implant a specially instrumented hip prosthesis capable of measuring actual pressures inside a functioning hip.
  • 1984 - Introduction begins of The Total System, a successful modular hip replacement system. This same year, Zimmer also introduces the Miller/Galante Total Knee, a modular system to replace arthritic knees. These new implant systems were supported by extensive medical education and workshop programs.
  • 1987 - Zimmer celebrates its 60th anniversary.
  • 1987 - Zimmer sales top $500 million; the Zimmer catalog contains more than 7,000 products and weighs nearly 11 pounds.

Milestones: 1990 - 2000

  • 1992 - A new corporate headquarters building is completed in Warsaw, Indiana.
  • 1993 - Zimmer opens a manufacturing facility in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
  • 1994 - Zimmer introduces Collagraft® Bone Graft Matrix.
  • 1995 - Zimmer introduces NexGen® Complete Knee Solution, a complete and totally integrated system with extensive component configurations and also featuring multiple surface coatings, femoral and tibial augmentation and innovative, precision instrumentation.
  • 1995 - Zimmer releases MICRO-MILL® Instrumentation, providing a simple, precise and reproducible technique with Milling and 5-in-1 Sawblade Options.
  • 1997 - President Ray Elliott joins Zimmer.
  • 1998 - Zimmer announces agreement with Integrated Surgical Systems to add Zimmer hip products to those that can be used with the ROBODOC™ Surgical Assistant System*, a milling robot used in joint replacement surgery.
  • 1998 - Zimmer announces agreement to market an innovative cross-linked polyethylene formulation; Cross-linked polyethylene is designed to improve wear performance of implant components.
  • 1998 - Zimmer presented with the Award for Excellence for Exemplary Joint Replacement Products and Services. The award acknowledges the strength of Zimmer brands in the orthopaedic market.
  • 1999 - Zimmer sponsors first-ever live internet broadcast of knee replacement surgery.
  • 1999 - Zimmer is recognized for "Excellent Service to the Orthopaedic Surgeon" according to an independent survey of orthopaedic surgeons. Zimmer ranked first in 11 of 17 service categories.
  • 1999 - Zimmer signs agreement with Integrated Surgical Systems to add Zimmer knee products to the menu of products that can be used with the ROBODOC™ system.

*Trademark of Integrated Surgical Systems, Inc.

Milestones: 2000 to Present

  • 2000 - Zimmer forms strategic alliance with Implex Corporation to commercialize Hedrocel® biomaterial, a Trabecular Metal™ structure that may allow for bone ingrowth on implants. The physical characteristics of the material may permit its use in a wide variety of implant applications.
  • 2000 - Bristol-Myers Squibb announces plans to divest Zimmer.
  • 2001 - Zimmer is spun off from Bristol-Myers Squibb and begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange, on August 7th, under the ticker symbol “ZMH”.
  • 2001 - First Zimmer® Minimally Invasive Solutions™ (MIS) 2-Incision™ Hip Replacement Procedure performed; procedure is performed through two 1 ½ inch incisions instead of traditional 10-inch incision.
  • 2003 - Zimmer acquires Centerpulse AG, a Swiss-based orthopaedic manufacturer and the leading reconstructive company in Europe. With the acquisition, Zimmer also expands its product offering to the rapidly growing spinal implant market and the reconstructive dental market.
  • 2003 - Zimmer announces its intention to acquire Implex Corporation, the privately held New Jersey company whose innovative Hedrocel biomaterial, Zimmer has marketed as Trabecular Metal Technology.
  • 2003 - Zimmer opens The Zimmer Institute, a state-of-the-art training facility to advance surgeon skills with Zimmer Minimally Invasive Solutions Procedures and Technologies. Satellite facilities around the world are later added.
  • 2004 - Zimmer completes acquisition of Implex Corp. and creates the Zimmer Trabecular Metal Technology Division.
  • 2004 - Zimmer launches the Minimally Invasive Solutions Quad-Sparing™ Total Knee Replacement Procedure which allows surgeons to perform total knee replacement without cutting muscles or tendons.
  • 2005 - Zimmer introduces electromagnetic computer navigation technology for MIS knee replacement, providing improved ease of use due to the elimination of line of sight issues experienced with existing optical navigation approaches.
  • 2005 - Zimmer acquires worldwide exclusive distribution rights for genetically engineered xenogeneic tissues for regenerative therapies from Revivicor, Inc. Zimmer initially plans to develop the technologies for orthopaedic applications, including the repair and replacement of damaged tendon, ligament, meniscus, cartilage, bone and spinal nucleus tissues.
  • 2005 - Zimmer launches the iNav™* Portable Electromagnetic Navigation System, offered through Zimmer’s partnership with Medtronic, Inc., providing a high quality, low cost, portable electromagnetic computer navigation system for knee replacement surgery. *Trademark of Medtronic, Inc.
  • 2006 - Zimmer launches the Gender Solutions® Knee Implant, the first such product designed specifically to address the unique needs of women patients.
  • 2006 - Food and Drug Administration approves Investigational New Drug (IND) application for Neocartilage, a tissue-engineered living tissue graft being developed with ISTO Technologies, Inc. IND approval allows the companies to move forward with human clinical trials of the novel cartilage regeneration treatment.
  • 2006 - Zimmer acquires intellectual property rights for Zimmer® BRIGIT™ Bone Resection Instrument. The BRIGIT system is a voice activated, electromechanical telemanipulator arm that is used by the surgeon for the spatial positioning and orientation of a guide or tool.
  • 2007 – Zimmer acquires Endius, Inc., based in Plainville, Massachusetts, a pioneer in the development of breakthrough minimally invasive spine surgery products, implants and techniques to treat spine disease.
  • 2007 - David C. Dvorak is named President and Chief Executive Officer of Zimmer Holdings, Inc. Mr. Dvorak joined Zimmer in 2001 and had previously served as President, Global Businesses.
  • 2007 - Zimmer acquires ORTHOSoft, Inc., a Montreal-based leader in medical software, instruments and computerized systems designed to help orthopaedic surgeons increase accuracy in hip, knee and spine implant surgery.
  • 2007 – Zimmer receives Premarket Approval (PMA) to market the Zimmer NexGen® LPS – Flex Mobile Knee, becoming one of only two companies that can offer a mobile bearing knee replacement option in the U.S.
  • 2008 – Zimmer acquires Abbott Spine. Founded in 1996 with U.S. headquarters in Austin, Texas, and an international facility in Bordeaux, France, Abbott Spine has developed a series of innovative technologies and techniques to treat spine disease.