O&P pioneer Ben Moss died 5 years ago. His company, Florida Brace Corp., will close by the end of this year because of changes in the industry, according to officials of the firm, which was founded in 1950.
But “Gentle Ben” Moss likely will be remembered as an O&P history maker. Also dubbed “The Chief,” he bought Winter Park-based Florida Brace Corp. in 1964. He expanded the business globally as the sole manufacturer of the revolutionary Jewett brace, a hyperextension spinal orthosis, and was chairman of the board until 2008.
The brace that started it all
“The Jewett brace is it — that is what we make,” said Anne Moss Anderson, Florida Brace general manager and one of three siblings who inherited the company from their father.
Winter Park adjoins Orlando, where the late Eugene L. Jewett, MD, an orthopedic surgeon, developed and patented the brace around 1936 when he opened Jewett Orthopedic Clinic, according to Anderson.
Jewett wanted to create an orthosis that provided an alternative to the body casts used at the time, according to the company website.
Air conditioning was rare in the 1930s, so patients found the casts uncomfortable, if not unbearable, especially in the sweltering heat and humidity of Florida summers.
In any event, after Jewett figured out the brace he had in mind, he headed to the local race track.
In the 1930s, harness racing was the big draw in central Florida. Except for West Coast tracks, Orlando was the only place in the United States that had winter harness racing.
Jewett huddled with a harness maker, who was an expert in metal and leather, the main components of the physician’s proposed brace.
“They worked with an orthotist and came up with a couple of prototypes,” said Anderson. Production and, ultimately, a patent followed.
The October 1937 issue of Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery hailed the Jewett brace as a success in the treatment of stable anterior compression factures of the spine.
Common treatment at the time involved putting a patient with a fractured spine in a hospital bed, where they would stay for a few days to a few weeks, with the fractured part of the spine elevated, according to Florida Brace Corp.’s website.
Jewett’s brace allowed patients to remain mobile, wearing a plaster cast while the brace was fabricated, and then wearing the brace until the fracture was completely healed.
A new career
Moss had no connection with Florida Brace Corp. or the O&P industry until 1964. He began practicing law in Orlando in 1954, after serving in the Navy in World War II.
“Ben decided he had gone as far as he wanted to go in the law and was ready to do something else,” his daughter said.
Moss and some associates started an electronics business.
“While he was doing that, Dr. Jewett’s attorney contacted him,” Anderson said. “He told Ben that Dr. Jewett wanted to get back into orthopedic surgery and needed somebody to run his business for him.”
Moss took the job with the understanding that Jewett would ultimately sell Florida Brace Corp. to him, according to Anderson.
“Ben recognized that the international business needed to be developed, so he started making trips to Europe to get that part of the business going,” she said.
Moss also went to work improving the product and better publicizing the Jewett brace. Under his leadership, Florida Brace Corp. became a major O&P company with customers worldwide.
Moss’ leadership in the field of O&P did not go unrecognized. He served as president of the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association from 1976 to 1977.
“He led the organization through some challenging regulatory times, and anytime he spoke in his soft voice in meetings, everyone listened closely for his opinion,” Michael Burton wrote in O&P Business News after Moss’s death in 2010.
A lasting legacy
“Ben was known for taking all conversations in, digest[ing] them, and bringing balance and insight into leadership decisions. The O&P profession has benefitted tremendously from his contributions,” added Burton, a former Florida Brace Corp. employee who is director of Sales and Business Development for O&P News.
“Ben was known to many as ‘The Chief’ and to others as ‘Gentle Ben.’ Everyone who knew Ben admired him and regularly sought his counsel.”
Burton also wrote that although many people knew Moss as a philanthropist, “Gentle Ben” insisted on keeping his donations quiet. “They were all made from the heart to causes he believed in and he never sought publicity for his generosity.
“Many single mothers attended college due to scholarships he funded. His love of music led him to help support music and the arts, though I can personally attest that he was not blessed with musical talent. Almost everyone who knew Ben fondly recalls that he was one of the kindest people they ever met.”
Moss’s “guidance helped to grow the company in both size and respect,” Burton wrote.
- Burton M. A Tribute to Ben Moss. Available at: www.healio.com. Accessed: Oct. 29, 2015.
Disclosure: Anderson reports she is part owner of Florida Brace Corp.