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The Stokes Stretcher - In continuous use by the US military for over 100 years

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Salvage Sailor



Photo #: NH 41601 U. S. Navy Ambulance Boat No. 1

Lowering a stretcher containing a patient through the starboard side of the booby hatch aft of the pilot house. Photographed at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, on 31 October 1919. Note the stretchers already suspended under the port side of the hatch.  Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, USN (Medical Corps)


Aloha Everyone,


I searched the medical forum but found no postings of the Stokes Stretcher (i.e. Stokes Litter Basket).  This important medical innovation, the Stokes Stretcher, also known as the wire-basket stretcher, is one of the oldest medical devices in continuous use by the U.S. military. Created by Navy Physician and future Navy Surgeon General (from 1910 to 1914) Rear Admiral Charles Francis Stokes, the Stokes stretcher has been in widespread use throughout the military and civilian sectors for over 100 years.


  • Stokes — who was appointed Surgeon General of the Navy in 1910, taught as a professor of surgery at the Naval Medical School in the nation’s capital and was a founding member of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) — amassed a long string of accomplishments during his lifetime. These included building a naval hospital at Pearl Harbor, instituting measures that virtually eliminated typhoid among servicemen, developing first aid dressing techniques that were used on the frontlines, and writing numerous well-regarded monographs on military and general surgery.




The Stokes Stretcher, arguably one of the oldest medical devices in continuous use by the military.  Hospital Corpsmen demonstrating a modified Stokes stretcher, 1935


  • He is perhaps best known, however, for his invention of a revolutionary stretcher, which he was inspired to engineer after witnessing the problems posed by carrying wounded sailors through a ship’s maze of gangways and hatches. “In taking up the subject of the transport of disabled persons one is amazed at the enormous energy that has been expended in that direction, and is disappointed at the crudeness of the devices that have been evolved,” he once wrote of the unwieldy contraptions then in use. The “Stokes stretcher,” as it is still called today, took the form of a large wire basket that allowed patients to be immobilized and carried in the tight quarters of a ship with a minimum of jostling and greater comfort.  Stokes retired with the rank of rear admiral in 1917 and practiced private medicine in New York City for the next decade, until his own health began to fail.  Source:  NYU Tandon School of Engineering



21st Infantry Stokes Stretcher, Mule Mounted, 1937, Schofield Barracks, T.H.


The stretcher he invented remains in widespread use today in search-and-rescue missions, although it is now often made from polyethylene. The next time you see news footage of an injured hiker being efficiently carried off a mountainside or survivors successfully airlifted from a sinking ship, recall that it was the ingenuity of Rear Admiral Charles Stokes who made that scenario possible.  


There ya go,


Anyone have a period example in your respective collections to show?



Illustration showing Item # 9938500 Litter, Metal, Stokes. The illustration clearly shows the straps inside the cage for securing the casualty.


9938500 – Litter, Metal, Stokes, US ARMY:

A metal cage or basket-design Litter which was intended to be used by Mountain troops to transport sick and wounded personnel down steep mountain faces. It was composed of a rigid steel tubular frame supporting a wire mesh netting to form a bed. It also was provided with wooden slats to support the patient’s back. The lower half was divided into two compartments to accommodate the patient’s legs. It was equipped with five web securing straps for when the patient was tilted. It had ropes, cables, or steel rings that could be attached to the Litter as required for vertical recoveries. The “Stokes” Litter was 84 inches long, 23 inches wide, and 8 inches deep. Its weight was approximately 31 1/2 pounds. The Stokes Litter was very much in use by the Navy, for loading and transferring patients from small boats to large Hospital ships or transports, and was used to a limited extent by the Army Air Forces. A modified Stokes Litter was later introduced, with a simplified metal frame, and its overall weight was reduced to 20 pounds.



Transfer of wounded from USS BUNKER HILL to USS WILKES BARRE, who were injured during fire aboard carrier following Japanese suicide dive bombing attack off Okinawa, May 11, 1945

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Salvage Sailor


Sick Bay aboard USS Prometheus (Repair Ship No. 2) 1919


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The Stokes stretchers had other uses as well. When I was on the U.S.S. Nimitz and we were in an overseas port such as Naples, Italy, Shore Patrol would use two Stokes stretchers tied together, one upside down on top of the other, as a way to temporarily restrain unruly intoxicated sailors at fleet landing until they could be returned to the ship via one of the ships utility boats.

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