First ever photo of Phineas Gage is discovered

A pair of photograph collectors in Maryland, USA, have uncovered what they believe to be the first and only ever photographic record of Phineas Gage – the railway worker who survived an iron tamping rod passing straight through the front of his brain, following an explosives accident in 1848.

The story of Gage and the effects of his injury on his behaviour and personality have become one of the most famous case studies in the history of psychology, inspiring plays, books and songs.

Jack and Beverly Wilgus have had the photograph – known as a daguerreotype after the Parisian photographic pioneer Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre – in their possession for over thirty years, but have only just confirmed its identity.

The photograph shows Gage as a scarred, handsome, proud man, smartly dressed, with one eye closed, wielding the tamping iron that made him famous. Jack and Beverly Wilgus originally thought the image was of a whaler, but after posting the picture on Flick-r, they soon learned from expert whaling commenters that this was not the case (it was not a harpoon that he was holding), and they followed up on an alternative suggestion that perhaps the image was of Gage.

By carefully comparing the photograph with a life mask taken of Gage’s head when he was alive, and the actual tamping iron, both of which are at the Warren Anatomical Museum, the Wilgus’s confirmed that the photo is indeed of Gage. For example, an inscription on the real-life tamping iron is visible in the photograph, and scars visible on Gage’s life mask perfectly match up with the scars shown in the photograph.

The new photo is bound to intensify the debate over the effects of Gage’s injuries on his personality and behaviour. “One theory about Gage — that his personality might have changed because his appearance was made grotesque by the accident (e.g., Kotowicz, 2007) — no longer seems credible to us,” the Wilgus’s said.

The article is not yet publicly available but is due for imminent publication at the Journal of the History of Neurosciences. You can see the photo and read more about Gage here.

[Image credit: Photograph by Jack Wilgus of a daguerreotype of Phineas Gage in the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.]


ResearchBlogging.orgJACK WILGUS, & BEVERLY WILGUS (2009). Face to Face with Phineas Gage. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences (In Press).

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

6 thoughts on “First ever photo of Phineas Gage is discovered”

  1. Researchers such as Malcolm Macmillan and I hope readers can contribute to a fuller picture of Phineas Gage by helping with topics such as those listed below. Many are not on Gage directly, but rather people or places related to him. FOR MORE INFORMATION including how these relate to Phineas, please visit .

    Information might be in letters and diaries; medical and business records; town, police and court files; local newspapers; and archives of churches, hospitals and literary, professional, historical and genealogical societies. We especially hope organizations will search their one-of-a-kind materials not published in book form.

    IN CHILE (1852-60): We’d like to learn about Drs. William and Henry Trevitt, Masonic lodges, Methodist churches, and English-language newspapers, schools and businesses. Do you know anyone who can help with such things?

    IN NEW ENGLAND (1848-54): Can you find newspaper or diary accounts of Phineas’ accident, of his travels exhibiting himself and his “iron,” and of his reported preaching at Methodist revivals in Sterling, Mass.? In Concord, NH records of Abbot-Downing Coach Co. could identify “three enterprising New Englanders” who may have set up the coach line Phineas drove for in Chile; in Hanover you might discover Phineas’ duties at Currier’s Inn, or a Dartmouth professor who met him; and somewhere in Wilton may be the papers of Henry Trevitt.

    IN CALIFORNIA (1860- ): Where is the missing undertaker’s ledger showing where Gage died? What can you discover about Dr. William Jackson Wentworth (Alameda Co.) or the papers of Joseph Stalder (d.1931)? Are you descended from Phineas’s nieces/nephew Hannah, Delia, Mary, Alice, or Frank B.Shattuck? Can we learn more about Frank at the School for the Deaf?

    IN OHIO (1860- ): Can you find anything about Henry Trevitt’s time at Starling Medical College (Columbus), about Prof. J.W. Hamilton, or about William Trevitt’s papers?

    ANYWHERE: If you are related to the Cowdrey, Davis, Ames, or Kimball families, are you also related to Phineas’ doctor, John Martyn Harlow? Do you know of ship passenger lists (Boston, New York, Chile, Panama, S.F.) that might show Gage family movements? Do you have Gold Rush ancestors who visited Valparaiso, Chile? And of course, letters describing Gage could have gone anywhere.

    There are more clues in Stillwater and Northfield, MN; Santa Clara, San Rafael, and S.F., Cal.; Cavendish, Castleton, Woodstock, and Burlington, Vt.; Lebanon and Enfield, NH; Albany, NY, Buda, Ill., the National Library of Medicine, and other places. See for details on how you can help follow such clues. Your help or inquiries to will be very much appreciated.

    We would be pleased to assist teachers (in New England, even Chile?) in creating a class project involving students’ search for family papers or local lore about Gage.

    Matthew L. Lena (Boston, Mass.)

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