Benjamin Ward Richardson Biography (1828-1896)


One of the most respected physicians of his day and an experimental pharmacologist who established precedents for the field's scientific integrity, Richardson was an active participant in some of the most popular reform movements of the 19th century. He was closely involved in the push for temperance and inthe drives for improvements in sanitation and public hygiene. The physicianwas also one of the first scientists to advocate human treatment of laboratory animals.

Richardson was born in Somerby, Leicestershire, England. Some of his early medical education was as an apprentice to a surgeon in his hometown, after which he entered Anderson's University in 1847. He continued his medical studiesin 1850 at the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, Scotland, and then received his medical degree from Scotland's University of St. Andrews in1854.

In 1856, Richardson began working as a physician at the Royal Infirmary for Diseases of the Chest. The following year, he won a prestigious award for hisdiscovery that ammonia maintains the fluidity of blood, yet volatizes to permit coagulation. He remained there for many years, during which he experimented with numerous organic compounds to determine their physiological effects. He described the chemical composition of amyl nitrate in 1863. From 1863 to 1871, Richardson concentrated on examining compounds in the amyl, ethyl, and methyl series and some hydrides, alcohols, chlorides, and iodides whose chemical composition he could determine. He then changed their molecular makeups bycarefully substituting or adding different radicals in a process that he hoped would allow him to predict a particular compound's effects on the body.

Although Richardson was ultimately unable to establish a conclusive link between a compound's chemical makeup and its physiological effects, researchers later benefited from his assumption that only part of a molecule takes part inan actual physiological reaction, as well as his habit of experimenting withgroups of like compounds. In addition, Richardson's research led to his introduction of 14 anesthetics, including methylene bichloride, and such useful medical tools as the disinfectant hydrogen peroxide and an ether spray for local anesthesia. He also invented some embalming methods and several medical devices.

In his role as reformer, Richardson wrote two books--Diseases of Modern Life (1876) and National Health (1890)--that warned about the dangers of poor sanitation, inadequate hygiene, and drinking alcoholic beverages. He began working at the London Temperance Hospital in 1892, and received a knighthood the following year for his contributions to the public health. Richardson died in London in 1896.

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