A fearsome sight for many, the hypodermic syringe was nevertheless an improvement on the animal bladder and hollow goose quill used experimentally by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) in 1656 and on the practice of introducing substances via scratches or cuts. In fact, its invention in 1853 coincided with that year’s Vaccination Act which made vaccination against smallpox compulsory for babies in their first 3 months and it handily enabled this mass delivery to be carried out. Two British doctors are credited with its appearance.
The first was Alexander Wood (1817-84) from Fife who called his device a ‘subcutaneous’ syringe and published ‘A New Method for Treating Neuralgia by the Direct Application of Opiates to Painful Points’ , in 1855, reasoning that, like a bee sting, the effect was localised. The second was Charles Hunter (1835-78) from London who presented ‘On the Hypodermic Administration of Remedies in Neuralgia and Other Affections’ in 1858.
Hunter had made improvements to Wood’s design and had found that injections did not have to be made at the site of pain but at any convenient spot since their effect was systemic. Wood disagreed but a Commission found that Hunter was correct. Hunter also coined the word ‘hypodermic’, from the Greek hypo (under) and derma (skin).
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