George F. Merson

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George F. Merson (1866-1959) was a Scottish pharmacist who produced surgical catgut.[1]


It all started prior to 1915 during the first world war. George F. Merson having been previously been employed by J.F.Macfarlan & Co in their suture business, started to experiment in his kitchen in Meuse Lane, Edinburgh with his wife to see whether he could manufacture Catgut in the UK.

Trained as a Pharmacist, he was highly respected in the profession and was appointed an examiner for the final examinations of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1906 and remained an examiner for many years. He returned from Newcastle upon Tyne to be employed by Macfarlan’s who had been manufacturing sutures for many years prior to 1915 but had always used Catgut and Silk imported from Germany. Sources overseas had dried up with the start of the war and Britain was in a critical position with the regard to catgut supplies.

Mr and Mrs Merson conducted experiments in their kitchen saucepans involving sheep intestines and smells of which only a catgut manufacture can understand. These experiments were carried out in a private house in Edinburgh where it was customary for the kitchen pulley to be a very strong structure for drying clothes was used for stretching their experimental catgut process that was later tested by his surgeon friends.

Eventually he had made enough progress to move into his first small factory in Meuse Lane behind Jenners Edinburgh, and the company’s first catalogue in 1917 describes a wide range of catgut products – either in rolls or sterilised by Iodine in glass tubes. At this time his sole production was catgut in various forms. Merson moved his premises to St. John’s Hill in 1920 as need for sutures was increasing. The Iodine process was used for sterilising catgut string, which thereafter was dried in the open air becoming contaminated thereby – and then transferred to Glass tubes in which it was re-sterilised by iodine solution and then, by a process of aseptic transfer, the iodine was decolourised by thiosulphate which, in turn, by further aseptic transfer, was replaced by a tubing fluid containing phenyl mercuric nitrate. The tubes were then sealed by heat. This process had been in use right from 1915 with various modifications and improvements.

Johnson & Johnson bought the company G.F.Mersons Limited in 1947, which was renamed to Ethicon Suture laboratories. George Merson maintained an active interest in Ethicon Inc. until his death in 1959 at the age of ninety-two, and remember that he was forty-nine years old when he founded the Edinburgh factory. With the exception of the last two years he visited Sighthill each week and was deeply fascinated by all the technical developments introduced. For several years before his death, he had invited the Directors by personal invitations to a dinner once a year at the Conservative Club in Princess Street, Edinburgh. This usually occurred in January to talk about the accomplishments of the previous year and gave him an opportunity to comment on plans for the future. After his death, this practise was continued each year by the Directors for many years. we now have the original G.F.Merson plaque from 1920 in our reception in Ethicon at Livingston, Scotland.


  1. ^ Bhowmick, A.; Chatterjea, G. (1985). First Handbook of Medical Instruments (3rd ed.). New Delhi: BI Publications Pvt. Ltd. p. 18. ISBN 81-7225-001-0. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 

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