BACKGROUND: A number of historical texts published during the first half of the twentieth century played a pivotal role in shaping and defining modern plastic surgery in the United States. METHODS: Blair's Surgery and Diseases of the Mouth and Jaws (1912), John Staige Davis's Plastic Surgery: Its Principles and Practice (1919), Gillies's Plastic Surgery of the Face (1920), Fomon's Surgery of Injury and Plastic Repair (1939), Ivy's Manual of Standard Practice of Plastic and Maxillofacial Surgery, Military Surgery Manuals (1943), Padgett and Stephenson's Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (1948), and Kazanjian and Converse's The Surgical Treatment of Facial Injuries (1949) were reviewed. RESULTS: These texts were published at a time when plastic surgery was developing as a distinct specialty. Each work represents a different point in this evolution. All were not inclusive of all of plastic surgery, but all had a lasting impact. Four texts were based on clinical experience from World War I; one included experience from World War II; and two included experience from both. CONCLUSIONS: One text became a military surgical handbook in World Wars I and II, playing an important role in care for the wounded. History has demonstrated that times of war spark medical/surgical advancements, and these wars had a dramatic impact on the development of reconstructive plastic surgery. Each of these texts documented surgical advancements and provided an intellectual platform that helped shape and create the independent discipline of plastic surgery during peacetime. For many future leaders of plastic surgery, these books served as their introduction to this new field.
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