Louis Pasteur and the United States : A history

On December 1, 1885, just six months after Louis Pasteur treated his first rabies patient, Joseph Meister, four boys from Newark, New Jersey were bitten by a dog suspected to be rabid.

A well-known physician, Dr. William O’Gorman, recommended that the children be sent to Pasteur for treatment and issued his appeal:

«I have such confidence in the preventive forces of inoculation by mitigated virus that were it my misfortune to be bitten by a rabid dog, I would board the first Atlantic steamer, go straight to Paris and, full of hope, place myself immediately in the hands of Pasteur…. If the parents be poor, I appeal to the medical profession and to the humane of all classes to help send these poor children where there is almost a certainty of prevention and cure. Let us prove to the world that we are intelligent enough to appreciate the advance of science and liberal and humane enough to help those who cannot help themselves..»
New York Herald Tribune, December 4, 1885.

In response to this appeal, contributions from people of all means began to arrive : from the great industrialist Andrew Carnegie and the former Secretary of State Frederick Frelinghuysen to four-year-old girls from the neighborhood in Newark. In a matter of days the fund had amassed $1000 and the four boys left for Paris to be treated by Louis Pasteur.

Their story was followed closely by the local and soon national press as documented in Dr. Bert Hansen’s scholarly article “America’s First Medical Breakthrough : How Popular Excitement About a French Rabies Cure in 1885 Raised New Expectations of Medical Progress” (American Historical Review 103:2, April 1998, pp. 373-418).

Dr. Hansen demonstrates that this is the first time medicine is seen as “Hot News.” When the boys returned home in January 1886, they received a hero’s welcome in the port of New York.

Source: The Pasteur Foundation. Click here to read the rest of the story.

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