Happy 200th Birthday Dr. John Snow

John SnowAs I near completion of Steven Johnson’s thrilling book, The Ghost Map, I thought I would pause and celebrate the 200th birthday of Dr. John Snow, who created the now famous map that helped identify the cause of the 1854 cholera epidemic in London. I am hoping next weekend to start my multi-part series about Mr. Johnson’s book and this terrible chapter in London’s history.

In honor of Dr. Snow, I thought I would share some interesting facts about him from The John Snow Society. [SOURCE]

John Snow Facts

  • Dr John Snow (1813-1858) was a famous physician, widely recognized as a leading pioneer in the development of anaesthesia in Britain, as well as one of the founding fathers of epidemiology.
  •  John Snow was born in York on March 15, 1813, the eldest son of a farmer. He died in London on June 16, 1858 at age 45.
  • His first piece of scientific work was on the use of Arsenic in the preservation of bodies (this work was abandoned due to the toxic effects on the medical students).
  • From his studies in toxicology, John Snow developed an interest in anaesthesia and cholera (hence his theory on the transmission of the cholera ‘poison’ in water supplies).
  • John Snow was a vegetarian and a teetotaler who campaigned for temperance societies (though he drank a little wine in later life). He first encountered a cholera epidemic in Newcastle in 1831-32 when he was sent there by the surgeon to whom he was apprenticed at the time.
  • It was reported that John Snow was a poor speaker with a husky voice; “always spoke to the point but found it difficult to obtain a favourable notice” (Richardson).
  • John Snow occupied three properties during his time in London; 11 Batemans Buildings, Soho Square (1836-1838); 54 Frith Street, Soho Square (1838-1853); 18 Sackville Street (1853-1858).
  • On October 16, 1841, John Snow presented his first paper entitled Asphyxia and the resuscitation of new-born children.
  • In 1846, John Snow heard about the use of anaesthesia in the USA. It was not well-received in the UK initially, due to the mode of administration but John Snow spotted how to improve this.
  • In 1849, John Snow published the first edition of his best-known work On the mode of communication of cholera. It cost him £200 to produce but his income was only £3.12s.
  • Journals dismissed Snow’s book. “There is, in our view, an entire failure of proof that the occurrence of any one case could be clearly and unambiguously assigned to water”. The reviewer later concludes, “Notwithstanding our opinion that Dr Snow has failed in proving that cholera is communicated in the mode in which he supposes it to be, he deserves the thanks of the profession for endeavouring to solve the mystery. It is only by close analysis of facts and the publication of new views, that we can hope to arrive at the truth”. (London Medical Gazette, 1849).
  • On April 7, 1853, John Snow administered obstetric anaesthesia to Queen Victoria on the birth of Prince Leopold, and again on the birth of Princess Beatrice (April 14, 1857).
  • John Snow beat William Budd to the water theory of transmission of cholera by only 10 days. However, although Budd’s thesis was based on more thorough surveys of rural outbreaks, he made the mistake of proposing a fungal cause.
  • John Snow’s views were still not accepted in Germany at the time of the Gelsenkirche Typhoid Epidemic, in 1901.

Latest Comments

  1. Robert Greenwood says:

    An exhibition at the Royal Society of Medicine to mark the bicentenary of John Snow.
    Cholera, Chloroform, and Disease Maps.
    An exhibition to mark the bicentenary of John Snow.
    7 May—27 July 2013
    The Library, Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 0AE
    Open to all. Admission free.
    Opening hours: Monday—Thursday: 9.00—19.00
    Friday: 9.00—17.30
    Saturday: 10.00—16.30

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