Several apocryphal accounts of transplants exist well prior to the scientific understanding and advancements that would be necessary for them to have actually occurred. The Chinese physician Pien Ch-iao reportedly exchanged hearts between a man of strong spirit but weak will with one of a man of weak spirit but strong will in an attempt to achieve balance in each man. Roman Catholic mythology reports the third-century saints Damian and Cosmas as replacing the gangrenous leg of the Roman deacon Justinian with the leg of a recently deceased Ethiopian. Most accounts have the saints performing the transplant in the fourth century A.D., decades after their death; some accounts have them only instructing living surgeons who performed the procedure.
More likely accounts exist in the area of skin transplantation. The first reasonable account is of the Indian surgeon Sushruta in the second century B.C., who used autografted skin transplantation in nose reconstruction rhinoplasty. Success or failure of these procedures is not well documented. Centuries later, the Italian surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi performed successful skin autografts; he also failed consistently with allografts, offering the first suggestion of rejection centuries before that mechanism could possibly be understood. He attributed it to the "force and power of individuality" in his 1596 work De Curtorum Chirurgia per Insitionem.
The first successful corneal allograft transplant was performed in 1837 in a gazelle model; the first successful human corneal transplant, a keratoplastic operation, was performed by Eduard Zirm in Austria in 1905. Pioneering work in the surgical technique of transplantation was made in the early 1900s by the French surgeon Alexis Carrel, with Charles Guthrie, with the transplantation of arteries or veins. Their skillful anastomosis operations, the new suturing techniques, laid the groundwork for later transplant surgery and won Carrel the 1912 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. From 1902 Carrel performed transplant experiments on dogs. Surgically successful in moving kidneys, hearts and spleens, he was one of the first to identify the problem of rejection, which remained insurmountable for decades.
Major steps in skin transplantation occurred during WW I, notably in the work of Harold Gillies at Aldershot. Among his advances was the tubed pedicle graft, maintaining a flesh connection from the donor site until the graft established its own blood flow. Gillies' assistant, Archibald McIndoe, carried on the work into WW II as reconstructive surgery. In 1962 the first successful replantation surgery was performed - re-attaching a severed limb and restoring (limited) functioning and feeling.
The first attempted human deceased-donor transplant was performed by the Ukrainian surgeon Yu Yu Voronoy in the 1930s; rejection resulted in failure. Joseph Murray performed the first successful transplant, a kidney transplant between identical twins, in 1954, successful because no immunosuppression was necessary in genetically identical twins.
In the late 1940s Peter Medawar, working for the National Institute for Medical Research, improved the understanding of rejection. Identifying the immune reactions in 1951 Medawar suggested that immunosuppressive drugs could be used. Cortisone had