100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Vaccinations
Year of Invention: 1796

What Is It? An injection designed to produce immunity to a particular disease.

Who Invented It? Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (in London, England) and
Edward Jenner (in Gloucester, England)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Have you had small pox? Polio? Typhoid? Probably not. Smallpox killed over 100,000 people a year for a century and left millions horribly scarred and disfigured. The influenza epidemic of 1918 killed over 25 million worldwide. Polio killed countless thousands in the early twentieth century and left millions paralyzed.

One simple invention not only stopped the spread of these diseases, it virtually eradicated them. That idea was vaccinations. Vaccinations have saved countless millions of lives and have prevented unimaginable amounts of misery and suffering.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Infectious diseases have always plagued humankind. In fact, the word plague comes from one the first of these killer diseases—the plague. Over the course of repeated epidemic outbreaks through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the plague killed nearly half of the population of Europe.

By the dawn of the eighteenth century, smallpox replaced the plague as the greatest terror on Earth. England alone lost 45,000 a year to smallpox and many times that number during major outbreaks. Benjamin Franklin’s son was killed by smallpox during an outbreak in America in the 1750s. Europeans were desperate for a way to escape from this horrid disease that seemed to lurk in every corner and village.


How Were Vaccinations Invented?

Vaccinations were invented in two steps.

Twenty-four-year-old Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a well-known English poet, traveled to Turkey with her husband in 1712 when he became the British ambassador there. Lady Mary soon noticed that Turkey suffered from little or no smallpox, the dread disease that regularly decimated England and that had left her disfigured and pockmarked.

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