Dr. Charles E. Stuart was always “Charlie” to me from when we first met in 1962 when I was a young teenager. While not a tall man, he seemed to be larger than life to me, talking about his citrus groves and trout farm and introducing me to such dental terms as true hinge axis and incisal guidance.
Over the course of the next 2 decades leading up to his death in January, 1982, he was like a Dutch uncle, visiting Whip Mix and my family in Louisville at irregular intervals to discuss articulator and face bow design details, manufacturing issues and sales opportunities. Eventually, I became employed full time in 1974 at the family business as a mechanical engineer, so that we spoke more regularly and crossed paths at the major dental meetings in the U.S. and abroad.
To appreciate this man, you have to first know of his pride at being a California native who saw Halley’s Comet appear in 1910. He always seemed so optimistic to me about the future and never doubted he’d live to see Halley’s Comet return in 1986. Unfortunately though, he died 4 years before its return.
His interest in things around him started early in life — he got his short wave ham radio license when he was just 13. Eventually it led to his building a huge Horizontal Rhombic Antenna array on the dunes facing the Pacific Ocean and his having the ONLY North American real-time link with the Chinese Kuomintang government during WWII. With his wife, Alicia, transcribing the broadcasts, they were able to provide the U.S. with a needed link to the Chinese Military that was battling against the Japanese invaders. For this service, he became the first non-Chinese recipient of the highest Chinese civilian medal, the Special Collar of the Order of the Brilliant Star.
Charlie’s dental peaks were no less lofty, and equally hard to achieve. He spent countless hours over 5 decades researching and constantly improving on the rudimentary diagnostic instruments of the day through his work with the research and publications of the Gnathological Society beginning in 1926.
Eventually this work resulted in his production of the Stuart Gnathological Computer in 1955 accompanied by his mandibular motion recorder. Because the instrumentation was so advanced, Charlie reinvented himself as a teacher of gnathologic concepts, lecturing to study clubs and groups of dentists around the globe.
So, at age 55 when most men were slowing down, Charlie found himself in great demand on the lecture circuit. Fortunately, other practitioners of Gnathology like Dr. Bill McHorris, Dr. Bob Lee and Dr. Peter K Thomas also shared Charlie’s passion and knowledge with dentists who recognized the patient value that derived from application of these principles.
Also, in the early 60’s, Charlie conceived of a more simple “Baby Stuart” articulator and an “ice-tong” design face bow. With patent applications in hand, he drove east in his grey Corvette convertible to find a willing manufacturing partner. His most successful visit was with Ed Steinbock, Jr. at Whip Mix whose product line was then limited to small equipment and materials related to lost wax casting of crowns and bridges in precious alloys.
The two men were ideal complements of each other – Charlie was a talker and Ed a thinker; Charlie a tinkerer and Ed able to simplify by focusing on what the customer really needed; Charlie painted with words and Ed was an accomplished watercolorist; Charlie the optimist and Ed the realist. This unusual collaboration resulted in the Whip Mix Model 8500 Articulator and 8600 Quick-Mount Face Bow that was first used at the newly built University of Kentucky College of Dentistry. According to Ed, when he and Dr. Harry Lundeen finished unloading the student articulator kits, Ed said, “Harry, if they’re no good, just throw them out and tear up the invoice”. Well, as compared to the Hanau’s of the day, Charlie’s “Baby Stuart” was an arcon design with the condylar guidance on the upper frame, it was smaller and lighter, it separated easily and the principles of occlusion were easier to teach and easier to learn.
Dental schools around the globe clamored for the new designs and Whip Mix rose to the challenge by increasing production without lowering quality. The company created an entire new product category, and also created a host of product copy cats, especially in foreign markets where Charlie had no patent protection. But at the end of the day, Charlie was one of the very rare inventor dentists who actually became a millionaire from the royalties that his inventions earned. To date, more than 300,000 have been sold.
In the 50 years since the first Model 8500’s were made, many improvements were made at the request or suggestion of dental researchers and customers. Noteworthy was the Model 8300 articulator that had only the intermediate condylar width, a curved eminentia and immediate side shift as suggested by the landmark research by Drs. Lundeen and Gibbs at the University of Florida. Charlie’s comment was: “Well you’ll have a great market for that in China…where everyone is equal!”
Another key improvement was the Model 8340 articulator with its Accumount table that allowed casts to be interchanged between instruments without loss of accuracy. This was patented by myself in 1985 and has proven to be quite popular as only the mounted casts need travel to and from the dental lab.
Though Charlie never lived to see it happen, the Whip Mix acquisition of the Hanau and Denar product lines in February, 2008 created a huge opportunity for the Company to increase its occlusion product sales. The quality of the personnel, the loyalty of the customers and the machining capabilities in Ft. Collins were key factors in reaching this major decision.
But Charlie would certainly have appreciated the intersection of humor and recognition that resulted in a limited edition run of 10 “Camo” Model 8500 articulators that were created in 2012 for the articulator’s 50th anniversary. They are all now in the hands of dentist friends and admirers of Charlie, who purchased them in his honor, knowing that they were made to memorialize his memory and augment the education funds of the International Academy of Gnathology. It was fitting for Whip Mix to participate in this meaningful way to honor Charlie’s legacy as a giant in the field of Gnathology and his herculean efforts at ending the Second World War in China.