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JAMA Revisited
June 19, 2018

The Early History of Bacteriology in the United States

Author Affiliations

June 22, 1918

JAMA. 1918;70(25):1946- 1947.

JAMA. 2018;319(23):2445. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.12424

Whenever we are charged, as a nation, with being occupied solely with the life of trade, and the designation of Yankee is used to designate preeminently commercial habits, it is refreshing to turn to the history of science for the truth. Of course, in the earlier days of the United States as a national enterprise the conditions were scarcely favorable for the widespread prosecution of those studies for which the European peoples of the civilized world had been prepared by generations and even centuries of experience. America’s intellectual life can at best be measured by decades. How has she progressed in some of the more recently recognized intellectual disciplines? The new science of bacteriology, the outcome of the labors of Pasteur, Lister, Koch and others, was born within the memory of many that are still living. The bacillus of tuberculosis was announced in 1882; the vibrio of Asiatic cholera in 1883; the bacilli of lockjaw and of diphtheria in 1884, the same year that marked the better recognition of the typhoid bacillus, which was really discovered in 1879; in 1894 came the discovery of the bacillus of bubonic plague; and along with this period belongs the finding of the micro-organisms of malaria, sleeping sickness, and several other diseases. In the midst of such developments the newer science of parasitology has found a firmer footing and a novel significance.