Thomas W. Evans

Thomas Evans' carriage

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Penn Dental’s Evans Building is named after the school’s first major benefactor, Thomas W. Evans, a man who lived most of his life on the other side of the Atlantic, in Paris, France.
There, in the latter half of the 19th century, the native Philadelphian built a prestigious dental career, eventually becoming the court-appointed dental surgeon and confidant of Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugenie. After the fall of the second Empire, when Empress Eugenie’s safety in Paris was in jeopardy, Evans risked his own life to help her escape from the Parisian mob and flee to England.

The carriage he used to rescue her (below) was for several years on display in the Dental School’s Evans Building, along with other Evans-related memorabilia including medals, ribbons and a valuable collection of paintings including several by Manet that provided the foundation of the School’s current endowment. The carriage is presently on loan to the Blerancourt Museum near Paris, France.

Among Dr. Evans’ contributions to dentistry were the use of vulcanite rubber as a base for dentures and a masterful talent with gold-foil fillings. He also brought the use of nitrous oxide as an anesthetic to Europe and introduced a light, American-style ambulance and field hospital to the French, which alleviated much suffering during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. For all these accomplishments he was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor, the first American to be awarded such an accolade.
For more on this and other notable moments in Penn’s history, go to the University Archives web site at www.archives.upenn.edu/.

For more on this and other notable moments in Penn’s history, visit the University Archives web site at www.archives.upenn.edu.

Originally published on April 12, 2007