March 14, 1942: First American Treated with Penicillin

In March 1942, 33-year-old Anne Miller lay near death in a Connecticut hospital, her body ravaged with a burning fever for weeks. She had developed septicemia, or blood poisoning, following a miscarriage. Doctors tried every known treatment, and in a last-ditch effort to save her life, decided to gamble on a new experimental drug called penicillin. The government released nearly half of its entire supply – roughly a tablespoon. Within a day, Anne’s temperature returned to normal and she was on the road to recovery. Anne became the first American treated with penicillin. This newly developed miracle drug would ultimately save the lives of millions, including countless soldiers during WWII.

In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming was experimenting with the flu virus in a London hospital laboratory when he discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin by accident. A staphylococcus culture plate inadvertently became contaminated with mold, and Fleming noticed the mold prevented the growth of staphylococci.

Fleming published his findings and Oxford researchers Howard Flory and Ernest Chain continued the research. After intense German bombings in London in 1940 made research difficult, Flory and biochemist Norman Heatley collaborated with the US government and the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research and began work in a research lab in Peoria, Illinois. The first human trials involving penicillin started in London in 1941, but the US government didn’t approve a trial until Anne Miller’s doctor successfully lobbied for the drug in 1942. It was a huge success. After it became clear that penicillin could dramatically reduce infection, the US government ramped up production rapidly.

The use of penicillin to treat soldier’s wounds and amputations revolutionized combat medicine during WWII. Doctors reported that wounded soldiers who were weak and delirious began to improve almost immediately after being injected with penicillin. One soldier being treated at Bushnell’s Veteran Hospital in Utah lay sick in a hospital bed for 14 months. His festering wounds contained bits of uniform, missile fragments, and shattered bone. Doctors did not dare operate on the gangrenous wound. Once the soldier began receiving penicillin injections, he began to improve almost immediately. This soldier who suffered terribly for 14 months recovered in just 27 days.

Anne Miller may have been the first patient treated with penicillin in the US, but to date, penicillin is credited with saving the lives of millions and ushering in the age of antibiotics. These advances had a huge impact on medical care for wounded WWII soldiers, turning penicillin into the war’s miracle drug. Anne Miller went on to live another 57 years after that first dose of penicillin. She died in 1999 at the age of 90. To read more about the development of penicillin and its use during WWII, search Newspapers.com today!

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56 thoughts on “March 14, 1942: First American Treated with Penicillin

  1. If I have a trial subscription to Newspapers, please cancel it. I’ve had so little luck with it that it’s not worth the price to me. I wish it were better because I’d use it a lot.

    • I’ve been accessing National Archives, Library of Congress, Revolutionary, Civil and other war archives, individual state and county archives, university archives, etc., and have found thousands of the most remarkable ancestral records and documentations. The grown children of one ancestor had direct connections to drafters and signers of the Constitution, a George Washington selection to the 1st Supreme Court, who was also the “inventor” of the electoral college, and bro and sis in-laws to Betsy Ross. My great grandfather’s unit captured a fort in the Spanish/American War and became a brigadeer general. It helped to search on Newspapers, copy a few words related to our family name, then googled them.
      Google books search also is a bountiful source of information. And yes, I got a paid Newspaper subscription, but opening each reference was time consuming, hence the googling of certain words in the articles that led to other sites.

      • Research is time consuming.. I have been using newspaper.com for 8 yrs and it is the best research tool available. I do family research as a sideline hobby and could not do as much as I do without it.

    • Wow, that’s too bad you’ve had no luck with this site. Thankfully I’ve had great success with my family that lived in KS. That said, yes as I’ve searched other states, it’s been hit or miss, but overall I have been really pleased with this site. I think they add papers all the time, so maybe check back later to see what has been added. Also, if you don’t want to pay for a subscription there may be some libraries in your area that might offer access to it.

    • I use Newspapers.com constantly. i am a researcher on the early Syrian immigration to the U.S. and this site is one of my faves. Every time i go to it (at least once a day), i find new stuff. It enables me to build timelines of immigrants’ lives esp. in conjunction with amazon. I recommend it highly.

    • Your level of success with any online newspaper research depends on where your family lived, on whether that city/town had an established newspaper, and if so, whether their archived papers have been scanned and posted online. That work is ongoing and takes time. I have many family from Nevada and have had amazing results there because they had several newspapers that have been scanned. But I’m finding very little on my Missouri ancestors. Don’t give up. Check back later and see if newspapers from your family’s area have been added to the sight.

      • That’s exactly right. There is one branch of my family whose many activities show up in the local column of a newspaper that has been included in Newspaper’s collection. I found a full obituary for the brother of my gg-grandmother who moved west and never returned home. I learned that he had served in the Civil War. The Newspapers collection includes one local paper from the 1800s. I found out that my great-grandfather once offered $50 for the return of a misssing horse, and I found the announcement of his marriage, even though the newspaper got her name wrong. But the collection does not yet include our local paper for the 1900s which would contain hundreds of obituaries that would be of interest to me. I am hopeful that that paper and others will be added in the future. Is it possible to suggest certain papers to be included or even to donate microfilm copies of possibly obscure local weeklies or other papers for inclusion in Newspapers? As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I am blessed to receive free subscriptions to Ancestry, Family Search, and My Heritage. I am happy to pay for Newspapers.

  2. Same here, with the basic subscription you only get teased. I paid for ‘publisher’ level and only got a few hits with lots of effort. I asked for my money back.

  3. I never renewed my subscription this year – too expensive and that’s just for the basic. There are other newspaper sources and some are free. Especially now that it’s linked with Ancestry, there should be some discount for having both.

        • Expect prices and fees to rise until demand begins to drop off. This is what they teach in business school. What they don’t teach, because they can’t measure it, is the business they never got because they priced the product too high to begin with. Volume or margin, and margin usually wins, and everyone loses!

  4. Prior to receiving a free trial period I started to get numerous Ancestry hints on my tree. We all know many Ancestry hints are red herrings. During the trial period of newspaper access did not locate one Ancestry hint that was relevant to my tree. So did not continue after trial period

  5. I agree with all the other people above who made comments. I cancelled my subscription a long time ago for the very same reasons! What a shame!

  6. I went for the free trial, and through newspaper articles was able to piece together the mystery of my grandmother’s and her siblings’ adoptions. The story was not pretty (hence the reason it made the papers), but at least now I know. Unfortunately, the articles do not save correctly to Ancestry. I don’t know who’s side the error is on, but they really should get that straightened out.

  7. Find a Family History Center near you. They will help you with a nonprofit family search account. At the Family History Center that is nearest you, you will be able to access ancestry, find a grave, newspapers.com, and many other sites that help with historical research. In addition there are people in the Family History Center who can help you every step of the way and show you all that is available. It is all free..
    Google “family history center”. Family History Centers are all over the world.

    • I was working with someone at a family history center (with valid account) in order to follow up on several ‘Newspaper’ hits I had received on my ancestry account. After trying many different search iterations on ‘Newspaper.com’ (i had all the details: the name, date, location, newspaper name etc) nothing was coming up. I then reached out to the company and even provided the Ancestry link to their site and asked if they would send me the info. As required, even in this comment form – I then had to include my email. Well, they got back to me all right. (after several days) “Sorry, your email is not a valid account- you need to pay before we talk to you”
      (paraphrased).
      (I wouldn’t have even been able to use their site to the extent I was if I hadn’t been using a valid account).
      It was very frustrating using their site and their customer service even more so.
      I don’t intend to pay to be frustrated.
      I figured if they helped me out, or pointed to what I may have been doing wrong it would be worth getting my own subscription. BUT… NO THANKS!!

  8. I have found lots of fascinating ancestor related articles. I really enjoyed my subscription.

  9. Some of the problems might be due to the required use of computers. I bought my first computer in 1982 and used it for drawing family trees and some writing, but I never liked the inflexibility of computer genealogy programs, so I stopped. How does one chart up an uncle who had four wives, and the second one and the fourth one were the same?

    So check with your correspondents who are so unhappy and see if they are frustrated by computer software and operating systems. My most recent acquisitions were the most unpleasant, Windows 10 and a Mac Mini. Judge a computer by how many swear words one uses during work. I have a twenty-two-year-old Gateway run by a nine-year-old Linux operating system, and printing out on a ten-year-old laser printer. No swear words !!

    If you find out that users are unhappy or are frustrated by the newspapers.com interface, find out what exactly is bugging them. I recently did some work on the Cambridge Chronicle web searches and the results have been very productive. I had no other way to construct a chronology of events except by building a framework based on fifty-year-old news clippings.

    Thank you for leaving this open channel, and I hope it leads you to make adjustments that improve the user experience.

    Stephen Kaiser,
    Citizen Engineer and Historian
    Cambridge Mass.

  10. This article is not correct! My father who trained at Johns Hopkins saved a family friend suffering with pneumonia in late 1939. Johns Hopkins was conducting research with penicillin at the time.

    • If you read it more carefully, you’ll understand that trials were being done, but the article is about penicillin being approved for use by the general public. Drug trials can go on for years before the general public is allowed to access the drug through their physician. Johns Hopkins was most likely the one of the main research facilities running the drug trials.

  11. Dave Winfrey, I was thinking the same thing as I read the negative comments about the business of NEWSPAPERS. Very sad indeed!

    Stephen Kaiser, I have purchased Legacy and Rootsweb software programs, but never really learned how to use them. I use my OLD Personal Ancestral File that is no longer supported. Although time consuming, it is easy to add four-five-six-seven-however many spouses one may have had. If he married the same one twice, only put in one name, but two marriage dates. (Easy-Peasy!!!)

    Betty Gordon
    Retired

    • Betty,
      Try Ancestral Quest (ancquest.com). They wrote the original source code for PAF and the interface is very familiar. You can download a free copy by clicking on AQ Basic. It’s easy to convert your old PAF files just by double clicking on them. Very easy.

      • I have been using PAF ever since it came out for Windows. I started on a PC Junior, so that tells you how long………I have Ancestor Quest, but still use PAF 5.0

  12. I’m sorry, I should have stayed with the subject at hand. As a child I had Rheumatic Fever and had to lay flat in bed for about four months. (My poor Mom!) PENICILLIN was the ticket, but very expensive back then, and difficult to acquire.

  13. Most of the newspapers.com hints have been obituary notices. I haven’t found any value in the newspapers.com subscription that I tried in the past, and won’t try again. Obituaries.com, though, that has been very helpful. I’m amazed that Ancestry charges for a separate newspapers.com subscription, especially since it pretty much worthless.

    • I guess I’m stupid because I look on Newspapers.com again and again and get nothing. However, since your name is Metcalf, I wonder if we’re related. My grandparents were Metcalf, and that male grandparent appeared out of nowhere apparently. I can’t find any record of his arrival in the US. Thanks.

  14. My cousin and I are interested in searching our family tree. There are a few mysteries about certain events involving our relatives. Going back to the depression era and WW I and II our relatives didn’t talk much about their events and circumstances of what they were dealing with during those times.
    My cousin and I are trying to find out. In some instances we are assuming what could have happened during those trying times along with the course of events that were taking place during those times in history.
    Thank you all who have commented on this web site and in giving advice on which sites to search.
    Joyce Echevaria
    Hartford, CT

  15. I really enjoy these teasers from Newspapers. Clearly not a reason to jump on and criticize the service. My experience with Newspapers is just the opposite. In less than 6 months I found well over 200 articles that listed one or more of my ancestors.

    As a result I now know that one grandfather ran cross country in college a century ago, that 2 of my grandparents were at a weekend house party together more than a year before they were married, where my grandmother studied piano, where and when she performed and what music she performed. I also know when they visited family, moved or visited friends. And far from last, I followed a 1930’s court proceeding where a great grandfather successfully sued a coal company for fraud.

    What else did I learn? Even though there are millions of pages available the coverage can be spotty both in geographic coverage and in time periods covered. Where the papers are available the info can be magical, but in other times and places there’s nothing to find.

    I understand that the basic service can present a challenge. In many of the papers, there is a point in time where before that date, entire papers are available, and after the date, all you see is a small 1” square window and the challenge is determining if the first or last name shown is Your’s. And if it is, is it worth upgrading to get the whole paper or find a friend who has the upgrade and can check you reference.

    Also, one more thing, if you find relevant articles and later drop your subscription, you may lose access to the article. For that reason, in addition to saving the article in Newspapers and Ancestry, I saved a copy to my hard drive.

  16. I Did not have luck with newspapers.com either and canceled them, but I agree with the person who said they had really good luck with the library of Congress newspapers which is free. I found hands of interesting stuff in there and my husband’s relatives

  17. I cancelled Newspapers last year. I found no newspapers in the area in Virginia where my ancestors lived. My husband subscribed this year as more newspapers were supposedly added, but still no luck. The subscription is not worth the aggravation navigating the system, and not finding the newspapers we need.

  18. I found Newspspers.com invaluable in researching information related to a rare voice disorder, Spasmodic Dysphonia. However, the format and search functions are tricky, to say the least. One has to devise strategies worthy of a detective agency, and even then…. Nonetheless, the free trial periods are generous. I hope it survives the merger with Ancestry, a much less reliable source of information.

  19. I found Newspapers.com very good for searching for me and my ancestors who all lived in small towns in Ohio. However, searchng for my husand’s ancestors from a very large city yeilded nothing. All the big city papers have their own archives so you might as well search them. Also very few foreign language newspapers are including plus no translations. I won’t be renewing my subscription. I printed everything I found so if the clips go away, so be it.

  20. Well, I have noticed that Newspaper.com is great if a person wants to add headlines from a certain era in an ancestor’s life but regarding finding individuals’ obits, activities is just quite useless. Newspaper.com mostly has access to the bigger/ greater/ more famous newspapers and less of the newspapers in smaller towns, smaller cities, country villages. I prefer NewspaperArchives.com for actual info about ancestors. However, the NewspaperArchives.com has gone into hiding and I just can not renew my subscription with them.

  21. Wow I can’t believe the comments of not finding value. I this the newspaperarchives has great value and have found hundres if not thoysands of relevant family information. I highly recommend it. I certainly would not pay ancestry to sell my family information. If I create a family genealogy record I should be able to share it with any family member free. Its my information. Try wikitree

  22. Don’t forget the Coconut Grove Fire November 28, 1942. The burn victims were treated with penicillin, the first time large numbers were treated. I am just about positive this is true but it has been a while since I read the history of the development of Penicillin. Everyone remembers Flemming but few could name Howard Florey and Ernest Chain, both brilliant. They deserve the credit because they developed the drug, with great difficulty.

  23. Wow! I’m quite surprised with the various individuals that didn’t find the access to Newspapers helpful; I must be just lucky.

    Granted, it takes a fair amount of effort to properly specify where you search (names/events/dates/locations & even specific newspapers); however, I’ve found answers to family mysteries that have been researched for decades using Ancestry and other platforms, libraries, archives, etc. with no success. Then (1) newspaper article is found which answers the question and it’s like a miracle – some newspaper decided it was worthwhile to write a story about a death, strange divorce circumstances and the like!

    Don’t be afraid of doing your homework and be persistent – it’s worth it.

  24. I don’t understand what all these negative comments about Newspapers has to do with the article on Penicillin. I have a subscription to Newspapers bundled with my Ancestry account. I added the Publishers plus so that I could print out obits and other interesting tidbits when I found them. It has been most useful for my research for myself as well as others.

  25. I have had great success on newspapers.com. My basic newspapers.com subscription is included with my Ancestry subscription. Yes, many newspapers are digitized while others are not yet. Depending on where your ancestors lived, it might be hit or miss. It also depends on the copyright of the newspaper. I have learned more about my father, mother and others using newspapers.com. For me, it is a treasure-trove of information that nobody knew. Make sure you do more than one search, use different spellings, etc. Don’t always focus on one newspaper to search. Sometimes you can find articles in a newspaper in the location where your ancestor was born and raised but is not their current location. Great research takes time.

  26. I feel that the people who have problems with this site just don’t know how to search properly. Yes, many of ancestry hits are red herrings, but so are those green leaves. Many people and ancestry just accept all hints and wind up with mish-mash.
    The best way to search is to use Quotes and separate the quoted words with an unquoted and. Example, if you are searching for a Robert Breen that lives in Peekskill, you would set up your search as follows: “Robert Breen” and “Peekskill”. This would limit the number of hits, but there will be a better chance of getting the hit you are looking for. If you are looking for an obituary, and know that he has a daughter named Catherine, then set up the search as “Robert Been” and “Peekskill” and “Catherine”.

    • I have found a lot of misinformation on Ancestry, due to the fact that a lot of folks who are just starting out will add someone else’s family to theirs just because the names are the same as the ones they are looking for without double checking the dates. I have gotten a lot of hints since I did my DNA and when I look at them there doesn’t seem to be a connection, but when I really study them, it turns out that the connection is 5 to 10 generations back. So don’t be discouraged. Just because the hints you receive aren’t closer than that doesn’t mean that they aren’t good. Just keep looking. Try going on one of the siblings of your direct Ancestor. You never know what you might turn up. It has worked for me. I call it, “going in the back door”.

      • So true. Many people also list the same person repeatedly with different name spelling or slightly different DOB. So one can find a couple who had 5 children, but someone on Ancestry lists 14. I try to have 2 reliable sources before adding a person to my tree. Also as person can be listed with date range if exact is unknown. Does take a lot of time to sort.

        • I came across one posting that listed the father and his date of birth, trouble is that the fellow had been dead for 10 years before the birth of the first child. I really don’t think that “Sperm Banks” were available in the 1800s.

  27. I’ve been of the opinion Ancestry withholds information on your direct line to keep you on their “hook” as long as possible. I have researched my line for 18 years. During this time I’ve solved many family lines…except my own. I will retire soon and so too will I retire my Ancestry account.

  28. I agree with numerous responses above. I have an Ancestry all access subscription which provides me access to Ancestry, Fold3 and Newspapers.com. When searching I do get hits for Newspapers but am then unable to pull up the information without upgrading to a publishers extra subscription. So if you are searching for anyone within the past 100 years you will not be able to access the information without the subscription upgrade. Extremely frustrating!! An all access membership is definitely not “all access”. I am not willing to pay any more for the subscription than I am already paying.

    • These newspapers and MANY other things have to be contracted, and paid for, by Ancestry.com to be able to offer them to members through Ancestry or Newspapers.com. If they can’t make a bargain with the people or organizations that own the “rights” to these-and believe me, those entities understand how valuable the access to their products are-then Ancestry.com/Newpapers.com won’t be able to find offer them to you, their members. That’s why it costs so much to buy access through Ancestry & Newspapers. They need to make a profit, or they won’t remain in business and usable to US, and they have to pay for those contracts SOMEHOW!! As much as I stress when I have to pay for my memberships-and believe me, I do-I try to remember what I’m paying for.

  29. I LOVE Newspapers.com. I use it to search not only for obituaries but for history as well. It’s just fascinating, especially the smaller newspapers. I would never use information from a family tree on Ancestry.com, although I have a subscription. Much of the information in the trees is not correct nor is it properly sourced. Good job, Newspapers.com!

  30. I agree on both of your statements. I have found some tidbits on my grandfather that I didn’t know. As to the family trees on Ancestry, I will look at them, but if they aren’t sourced, I will pass them by. Others that are sourced, I will look at the information and what I know to be true about them. Dates and such. Those I will accept. I will never upload anything to Ancestry that I can’t back up with documented proof. My husband would never accept anything from anyone unless they had the documented proof to back it up. Nothing frustrated him any more than to answer a query about family, asking for their proof of connection and to get no answer from them.

  31. Basic subscription is not worth the price as most searches require the “premium” subscription. They should have one price as it is insulting to think there is any value in the standard version.

  32. With just a shred of information (and mis-information) and newspapers.com I was able to find when and where a little boy was murdered many years ago. That enabled his (now adult) brother to find his grave and put up a tombstone. Couldn’t have given this man peace and closure without it.

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