Essay on Antiseptic Discoveries of the Nineteenth Century

Essay on Antiseptic Discoveries of the Nineteenth Century

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In early times, like today, people tried to find ways to explain things that they did not understand. There was a time when mice and rats were thought to have grown from cheese left in the corner, frogs were believed to grow from pond scum, and maggots were thought to come from rotting meat.

By the nineteenth century, scientists had abandoned this theory (called spontaneous generation) as an explanation for the existence of visible animals, but not for diseases. Infections and illnesses were thought to have been caused by impurities in the air. Doctors did not understand the necessity of cleanliness when dealing with patients and were unaware that they could be transmitting diseases from one patient to another with their unwashed hands. Doctors in the mid-nineteenth century made revolutionary advances that influenced modern medicine. Three such men were Ignaz Semmelweis, Louis Pasteur, and Joseph Lister.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was born in Buda, Hungary on July 1, 1818. Although he was born in Hungary, his family was of German origin. Semmelweis traveled to Vienna in the fall of 1837 and enrolled in medical school. His father had wanted Ignaz to study law, but shortly after he arrived in Vienna, Ignaz was attracted to medicine. At the age of twenty-five he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of Vienna in 1844. Later on that year he earned his Master of Midwifery.

Once he received his Master’s degree, he applied for and was given the position of Assistant in the Lying in Division of the Vienna General Hospital (Wilson).

The Lying-in Division was where poor or unwed women often came to have their babies.
Childbirth was not a safe thing in those days. The Vienna General Hospital, along wit...

... middle of paper ...

.... Lister had the work of Pasteur and Crooks from which to form his own hypothesis. Ignaz Semmelweis drew his assumption from pure scientific observation and experimentation. Although I do feel that Semmelweis has not received the recognition he deserves, I still believe that all three men, Semmelweis, Pasteur and Lister, were revolutionary scientists whose world-changing discoveries will not soon be forgotten.


Angel, Ann, and Beverly Birch. Louis Pasteur: People Who Made a Difference. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens, 1992.

Francoeur, Jason R. “Joseph Lister: Surgeon Scientist (1827-1912).” Journal of Investigative Surgery 13 (2000): 129-132.

Kandela, Peter. “Antisepsis.” Lancet. 13 Mar. 1999.

Wilson, John L. “Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818-1865).” Lane Medical Library. 1999. 23 Apr. 2003 <>.

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