Spreading the Cure


On the Difficulty of Preserving the Vaccine Virus on Thread or Glass in Very Hot Weather, 1801

Some of the problems associated with the early smallpox vaccination work are highlighted in this manuscript of Benjamin Waterhouse. Without an adequate way to preserve the active virus at high temperatures, Waterhouse often found its efficacy compromised. During June and July, 1801, he charted the temperature and humidity in Cambridge to measure its effect on his vaccine matter and then devised these procedures to keep the matter cool and allow samples to be sent to his colleagues.


Letter from Benjamin Waterhouse to Edward Jenner, 1801

In this letter, Waterhouse describes for Jenner the difficulties he has encountered with inoculations of spurious matter and asks for some additional vaccine, specifying that the matter be sent on soaked threads pressed between glass and sealed with wax.


Vaccine inoculation, circa 1801

This unusual illustration of a child's arm with the distinctive mark of inoculation was inserted in Benjamin Waterhouse's own copy of The Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation (London : printed by D. N. Shury, 1801). The Origin was Edward Jenner's attempt to prove his claim to the priority of cowpox inoculation. He concludes the treatise with the words "An hundred thousand persons, upon the smallest computation, have been inoculated in these realms. The numbers who have partaken of its benefits throughout Europe and other parts of the Globe are incalculable: and it now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy, that the annihilation of the Small Pox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice."


Letter from Benjamin Waterhouse to Lyman Spalding, 1802

Benjamin Waterhouse's position as a supplier of vaccine matter to American physicians is attested in this letter to a colleague, Lyman Spalding (1775-1821). Note that the letter also refers to Jenner's gift to Waterhouse of the silver snuffbox containing quills laden with cowpox vaccine.

This silver snuffbox was a gift from Edward Jenner to Benjamin Waterhouse and contained quills impregnated with cowpox vaccine matter for use in America. In a letter dated November 16, 1802, Waterhouse said,"Dr. Jenner has been to me what the sun is to the moon... Dr. Jenner has just sent me a present I highly prize, a silver box inlaid with gold of exquisite taste and workmanship, bearing the inscription, 'Edward Jenner to Benjamin Waterhouse.' But Mr. [John] Ring annexed the superscription in rather a hyperbolic style, 'From the Jenner of the Old World to the Jenner of the New World.'"

Benjamin Waterhouse
Spreading the Cure