Joseph Lister Biography (1827-1912)


Joseph Lister, born in Upton, Essex, the son of a London wine merchant, developed antiseptic surgery, saving innumerable patients from the dreadful pain and death of post-surgical infection.

Lister's father invented the achromatic lens which created the modern microscope and encouraged the boy's interest in microbiology. After receiving his medical degree from University College Hospital in London in 1852, Lister practiced and taught surgery first in Edinburgh and then, from 1860, in Glasgow, Scotland.

As a surgeon, Lister became increasingly disturbed by the high rate of the often fatal infection that developed in his patients after surgery. A professorof chemistry, Thomas Anderson (1819-1874), drew Lister's attention to the ideas of Louis Pasteur. Lister immediately concluded that the microorganisms described by Pasteur and carried in the air caused wound infections. He developed a method to destroy these organisms using carbolic acid as an antiseptic.

Lister first used his new antiseptic surgical technique in March 1865. Although this and many subsequent operations proved the effectiveness of Lister's method to prevent infection, Lister's ideas were vigorously opposed by many ofhis fellow physicians, who thought the antiseptic procedures ridiculously complicated and superfluous.

In 1877 Lister became a professor at London's King's College Hospital, wherehe continued to promote antisepsis. As the significance of his innovation became widely recognized in the late 1870s and 1880s, Lister gained many honors,including elevation to the peerage in 1897, and was a greatly venerated figure by the time of his death in 1912. His other contributions to surgery include the use of absorbable sutures and the introduction of wound drainage.

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