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March 21, 1931


Author Affiliations

From the Department of Pathology and Bacteriology, New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital.

JAMA. 1931;96(12):920-925. doi:10.1001/jama.1931.02720380008003

It may safely be inferred that the use of antiseptics antedates the earliest existing record of mankind. The preservation of foods in times of plenty for the periods of scarcity was a lesson learned early by prehistoric races. They preserved their foods by dyeing, smoking, salting or spicing.

Spices, volatile oils, and balsams were early used by priests and healers in the care of wounds, although antisepsis was undreamed of. Later certain preparations of mercury and other heavy metals came into common usage. Distilled liquors, potions made from herbs, and even the cautery were listed in the armamentarium of our forebears devoted to the healing of wounds.

Throughout the ages, and until the work of Lister in the latter third of the nineteenth century, the term "antiseptic," however, was associated exclusively with the preservation of foodstuffs. Following his epoch-making discoveries, new and different terms with distinct meanings came into being.