Featured Artifact

Carbolic Spray, 1869

carbolic spray

Inventory Number: 2004.082.01.01

Made by Godman and Shurtleff in Boston during the late 19th century, this spray canister was given by Joseph Lister to a Dr. Taylor, who was his surgical dresser at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The item was donated by a relative, Dr. A.H. Taylor.

Joseph (later Lord) Lister (1827-1912) is known by some as the father of modern surgery because of his theories on bacteria and the development of an array of anti-septic mechanisms. The canister, as pictured above, is a prime example of such a device. When employed, the spray fo carbolic acid would cover the open wound, as well as the area surrounding it, during operation. Lister also promoted the use of phenol-soaked surgical dressings, as well as other practices to avoid infection, which was a common cause of death. In 1867, Joseph Lister published three groundbreaking articles documenting his experiments with antiseptic practices in surgery. They described his success in using antiseptic (killing all potential bacteria already in the wound) and aseptic (preventing bacteria from getting into the wound by maintaining a sterile environment), techniques.