History of Penicillin


Penicillin was the first broad‐spectrum antibiotic. It revolutionized the treatment of infectious diseases, and became an instrument of mass medical care in the aftermath of World War II. Deep‐fermentation methods, which had been developed for the production of penicillin during the war, gave rise to the antibiotics industry, and contributed to the new biotechnology industry which appeared in the 1970s. For all these reasons, penicillin had a major impact on the second half of the twentieth century.

Keywords: antibiotics; infectious diseases; World War II; fermentation; biotechnology; miracle drug; Fleming; Florey; pharmaceutical industry; medicine; Pasteur; competitive antagonism; erysipelas; Waksman; streptomycin; Pasteur Institute; Raistrick; Domagk; Bayer; sulfanilamide; Middlesex Hospital; Dubos; tuberculosis; Chain; Heatley; synthesis; North Africa; D‐day; Rhône‐Poulenc; Paris; Merck; clinical trials; national health services; resistance; semisynthetic penicillins

Further Reading

Bickel L (1970) Rise up to Life: a Biography of Howard Florey Who Made Penicillin and Gave it to the World. London: Angus and Robertson.

Bud R (1998) Penicillin and the new Elizabethans. British Journal of the History of Science 31: 305–333.

Chen W (1992) The laboratory as business: Sir Almroth Wright's vaccine programme and the construction of penicillin. In: Cunningham A and Williams P (eds) The Laboratory Revolution in Medicine, pp. 245–292. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fleming A (ed.) (1946) Penicillin: Its Practical Application. London: Butterworth and Co.

Florey HW, Chain EB and Heatley NG (1949) Antibiotics: a Survey of Penicillin, Streptomycin, and Other Antimicrobial Substances from Fungi, Actinomyces, Bacteria and Plants, vols 1 and 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goldsmith ML (1946) The Road to Penicillin: a History of Chemotherapy. London: Lindsay Drummond.

Hare R (1982) New light on the history of penicillin. Medical History 26: 1–24.

Hobby GL (1985) Penicillin: Meeting the Challenge. Yale: Yale University Press.

Liebenau J (1987) The British success with penicillin. Social Studies of Science 17: 69–86.

Neushul P (1998) Fighting research: army participation in the clinical testing and mass production of penicillin during the Second World War. In: Cooter R, Harrison M and Sturdy S (eds) War, Medicine, and Modernity, pp. 203–242. Thrupp: Sutton.

Sheehan JC (1982) The Enchanted Ring: the Untold Story of Penicillin. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sokoloff B (1945) Penicillin: a Dramatic Story. London: Allen and Unwin.

Wainwright M (1990) Miracle Cure: the Story of Penicillin and the Golden Age of Antibiotics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Williams TI (1984) Howard Florey: Penicillin and After. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Quirke, Viviane M(Apr 2001) History of Penicillin. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003626]