Dr. Max Thorek founded the International College of Surgeons (ICS) in 1935, with the goals of promoting the exchange of surgical knowledge worldwide. The Museum was originally conceived as the ICS Hall of Fame, and as a repository for its growing collection of historically significant surgical instrumentation, artworks and manuscripts. 

Beginning in 1950, through the efforts of Dr. Thorek, the Museum received additional donations of objects and artwork from many of the national sections of the ICS, individual surgeons and collectors, and other institutions. Shipments of artifacts, paintings, sculptures, and books arrived, and the Museum began to take shape. To house the Museum, a historic lakeside mansion was acquired, adjacent to the ICS headquarters.

The Museum opened to the public on September 9, 1954. One of the first exhibits to be installed was the Hall of Immortals, containing twelve large stone statues of great figures in the field of medicine and the allied sciences. In further reference to great scientists, surgeons and discoveries of the past, a Hall of Murals was created with a series of large paintings depicting the development of surgical science through the ages.

In 1959, the Museum marked the dedication of galleries devoted to France, Mexico, Spain and the Netherlands, with many more of these national rooms inaugurated over the ensuing years. The founding leaders of the Museum hoped to make the collection meaningful to the public by organizing exhibits by nation. Each room, hallway, and stair landing were devoted to one nation or region’s historical collection with the intention of tracing a particular nation’s contribution to surgery.

Beginning in 1990, new exhibits were developed based on historical themes and surgical disciplines.

Over the past two decades, the International Museum of Surgical Science has made significant progress in strengthening its educational programs and exhibits, as well as in the conservation of its noteworthy collections and historic landmark building. Today, the Museum’s four floors are filled with extraordinary artifacts that interpret the prehistoric through contemporary healing practices.