When it was first used as a medicine, penicillin was literally a “miracle drug.” People were dying from infections that nobody knew how to cure.
Nowadays, penicillin and other antibiotics are readily available in any pharmacy in the United States as long as you have the required prescription from your physician. Before 1941, however, there were virtually none of these in the medical industry.
It was in September 1928 that the history of penicillin as a wonder medicine began. Professor Alexander Fleming returned to his laboratory in St. Mary’s Hospital in London from a two-week holiday and, upon careful infection of his streptococcus cultures, he noticed one dish with a highly unusual development.
In this dish, the spreading of the bacterial culture was stopped short by a growing blob of mold. He observed a clear area between the mold and the bacteria cultures, leading Dr. Fleming to assume that the mold’s secretions were killing the bacteria.
He was correct, but it would be years before the “mold juice” would be refined and developed into a working antibiotic. Several bacteriologists followed after Dr. Fleming published his findings in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology in June 1929.
It would be Howard Florey of the University of Oxford that would perfect the first version of the antibiotic in 1940. One year later, a policeman named Albert Alexander would be given the antibiotic to cure a wound in his face that became badly infected.
Wartime conditions did not let penicillin be widely available, so it wasn’t yet found in any independent pharmacy in South Carolina until after the Second World War.
Today, penicillin has saved countless lives from bacterial infections.