Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister

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Joseph Lister, 1902

Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister (born April 5, 1827 in Upton , Essex , † February 10, 1912 in Walmer , Kent , in what is now Dover District ) was a British medic . He made a name for himself as the "father of antiseptic surgery ".


Joseph Lister came from a wealthy Quaker family in Upton, Essex. His father was the wine merchant Joseph Jackson Lister , a pioneer of optical microscopy, his mother's name was Isabella, née Harris. Joseph Lister went to school in Hitchin and Tottenham and studied in London from 1844 to 1852 , initially Artes (he received a Bachelor of Arts in 1847 ) and from 1846 also medicine (stimulated by his presence at the public demonstration of anesthesia by Robert Liston ), and received a Bachelor of Medicine ( Medicinae Baccalaureus ) in 1852 at the age of 25 . In 1855 he became a member ("Fellow") of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and house surgeon (House Surgeon) at the Royal Infirmary and assistant to the Regius Chair of Clinical Surgery , James Syme (his father-in-law). From 1860 he was Regius Professor of Surgery in Glasgow , from 1869 Lister succeeded his father-in-law as Regius Professor of Clinical Surgery at the University of Edinburgh . In 1877 he was appointed professor of clinical surgery at King's College London .

Lister's tombstone

Simultaneously with his appointment as Regius Professor in Edinburgh, he became Surgeon to the Queen in Scotland and successfully operated on Queen Victoria for an abscess in the armpit during her stay at Balmoral Castle .

In 1891 Joseph Lister became the director of the "British Institute of Preventive Medicine", which was founded on the model of the Paris Pasteur Institute and which later received his name.

In 1856 Lister married the daughter of surgeon James Syme , Agnes Syme. After the death of his wife in 1892 while on vacation in Italy, he withdrew from the practice, but still advised every now and then, for example on the appendix operation of King Edward VII shortly before his coronation in 1901.

Lister is buried in West Hampstead Cemetery.


Much of his pioneering work in antiseptic medicine ("Listerism") originated in Glasgow in the 1860s, where Lister was a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary in addition to his professorship. He was influenced by the writings of Louis Pasteur on germs as the cause of fermentation and putrefaction processes, to which Thomas Anderson , Professor of Chemistry in Glasgow, made him aware in 1865. The use of phenol (then called "carbolic acid") to control odors in wastewater in the city of Carlisle and its use by Georges-Eugène Haussmann as part of the new installation of the sewer system in Paris gave Lister the idea of ​​using phenol in surgery and wound medicine experiment. First, a phenol solution was nebulized over the surgical field during and after operations, so that the doctors' hands, the instruments and the surgical wound were coated with a bactericidal film. On August 12, 1865, he performed the first operation with phenol antisepsis on an 11-year-old boy. The operation was successful. Before Lister's discoveries, the mortality rate from infectious diseases after the actual operation was 50%, the use of antisepsis and proper hygiene lowered the mortality rate to 15%.

Around 1867 Lister was the first to treat wounds with bandages soaked in phenol ( Listerscher Verband ). In the same year he told the British Medical Association in Dublin that the first concern must be that all septic germs that might have got into the wound during an accident or later would have to be destroyed by carbolic. He also informed the professional world about this antiseptic measure in a series of articles that was published in The Lancet from March 1867 . He also carried out the first operation on a fresh kneecap fracture under antiseptic conditions in 1877, having just been called from Glasgow to London, and thus began antiseptic bone surgery together with his former Glasgow colleague Sir Hector C. Cameron.

The phenol effectively killed the bacteria still present in the dressing and on the wound surface, and new germs no longer came to the wound surface; wound healing therefore proceeded quickly and without complications. Lister developed systematic hospital hygiene from the initially selective use of phenol. Frequent hand washing by doctors and nursing staff with phenol solution and the use of rubber gloves showed lasting effects. With the introduction of the disinfection of instruments and bandages, hospital stays due to accidents or those associated with surgical interventions lost their horror. Patient mortality was falling rapidly. According to Ignaz Semmelweis's findings , Lister's research results led to the groundbreaking principles of asepsis and antisepsis in health care. Lister also discovered the streptococci that cause milk to coagulate . After microscopic studies (Lister became a member of the Royal Microscopical Society ) he recognized the inadequacy of silk and thread as sutures; he introduced the surgical use of catgut thread .

In 1871 Lister began to experiment with fungi of the species Penicillium. In 1884 he was the first to use penicillin successfully against a nurse's abscess . However, Lister did not publish his results and therefore today Fleming is considered the discoverer of penicillin, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1945.


Lister received an honorary doctorate in medicine from the University of Edinburgh in 1878, and a doctorate in law from Oxford and Cambridge in 1879 and 1880 . In 1893 he was given the hereditary title of Baronet , of Park Crescent in the Parish of St Marylebone in the County of Middlesex . In 1897 he was awarded the hereditary title Baron Lister , of Lyme Regis in the County of Dorset , to peer collected and received a seat in the House of Lords . The Royal Society awarded him the Royal Medal in 1880 and the Copley Medal in 1902 , and was the first surgeon to be its president (1895–1900). In 1885 he was accepted into the Prussian order Pour le Merite (peace class). In addition, the British Crown awarded him the Order of Merit as one of the 12 members at the first award and accepted him into the Privy Council in 1902 . He was an honorary citizen (Freeman) of Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. In 1877 he received the Cothenius Medal of the Leopoldina , in 1882 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina. In 1893 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , in 1898 to the National Academy of Sciences and in 1912 to the Académie des Sciences in Paris. In January 1902, the British polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott honored him as part of the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904) by naming Mount Lister in the Royal Society Range of East Antarctic Victoria Land . In the Antarctic , the Lister Glacier in Viktorialand and the Lister Glacier on the Brabant Island also bear his name. In 1905 he became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

In Lister's honor, the Royal College of Surgeons of England has awarded the Lister Medal for Achievement in Surgery since 1924 . Statues on Portland Place in London and Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow commemorate him. A pathogenic bacterial genus ( Listeria , by J. H. H. Pirie 1940) and a building in the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow are named after him.


  • Minute structure of the involuntary muscular fiber. In: Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Volume 21, 1857, pp. 549-557.
  • On the early stages of inflammation. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (London). Volume 8, 1858, p. 581.
  • Observations on Ligature of arteries on the antiseptic system . Churchill and Sons, 1870. (Reprint from The Lancet, Volume 1, April 3, 1869, p. 451).
  • A Contribution to the Germ Theory of Putrefaction and Other Fermentative Changes, and to the Natural History of Torulae and Bacteria. In: Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Volume 27, 1875, pp. 313-344.
  • On the Nature of Fermentation. In: Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science. New Series, Volume 18, 1878, pp. 177-194.
  • On the Lactic Fermentation, and Its Bearings on Pathology. In: Transactions of the Pathological Society of London. Volume 29, 1878, pp. 425-467.
  • Joseph Lister's first publications on antiseptic wound treatment: (1867, 1868, 1869) . J. Barth, Leipzig 1912 (Sudhoff's classics of medicine, editor Friedrich Trendelenburg ). In particular, the following are reprinted there:
    • On a New Method of Treating Compound Fracture, Abscess, etc., With Observations on the Conditions of Suppuration. In: The Lancet . 1, 1867, pp. 326-329, 357-359, 387-389, 507-509, and 2, 1867, pp. 95-96.
    • On the Antiseptic Principle in the Practice of Surgery. In: The Lancet . 2, 1867, pp. 353–356, (online at Harvard Classics)
    • On the Antiseptic Treatment in Surgery. In: British Medical Journal . 2, 1868, pp. 53-56, 101-102, 461-463, 515-517, and 1, 1869, pp. 301-304.
  • Scientific papers. PF Collier, New York 1910.


  • Claude E. Dolman: Lister, Joseph . In: Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. (with extensive bibliography).
  • The Collected Papers of Joseph Baron Lister. 2 volumes. Classics of Medicine Library, Birmingham 1979.
  • Frederick F Cartwright: Joseph Lister: The Man Who Made Surgery Safe. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1963.
  • Richard B. Fisher: Joseph Lister, 1827-1912 . Stein and Day, New York 1977, ISBN 0-8128-2156-4 .
  • Rickman John Godlee : Lord Lister. German edition. JCW Vogel, Leipzig 1925.
  • Werner Köhler : Lister, Lord Joseph. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 857.
  • Douglas McTavish: Joseph Lister. Hodder Wayland, 1991, ISBN 0-7502-0168-1 .
  • Friedrich Trendelenburg: Joseph Lister's first publications on antiseptic wound treatment (1867, 1868, 1869). Translated and introduced by Friedrich Trendelenburg (= Classics of Medicine. Volume 17). JA Barth, Leipzig 1912, DNB 580587592 .
  • Anja Wittkopp: The development of wound treatment with special consideration of the achievements of Joseph Lister and his contemporaries in the 19th century (= studies on the history of the hospital system . Volume 35). Murken-Altrogge, Herzogenrath 1994, ISBN 3-921801-77-X (dissertation Technical University Aachen 1994).
  • René Zey (ed.): Lexicon of researchers and inventors . Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-499-16516-3 .
  • Lindsey Fitzharris: The Horror of Early Medicine, Joseph Lister's Fight Against Quackers, Quacks & Bone Plumbers. German by Volker Oldenburg. Suhrkamp, ​​2018, ISBN 978-3-518-46886-9 .

Web links

Commons : Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Joseph Lister Baron Lister. The University of Glasgow Story, on the University of Glasgow website; Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  2. Lindsey Fitzharris: The Horror of Early Medicine. Joseph Lister's fight against quackers, quacks & bone plumbers. P. 222 f.
  3. Peter Schneck: Joseph Lord Lister. In: Wolfgang U. Eckart , Christoph Gradmann (Hrsg.): Ärztelexikon. From antiquity to the present. 3. Edition. Springer Verlag, Heidelberg / Berlin / New York 2006, p. 211 f. Medical glossary 2006 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-540-29585-3 .
  4. Steven Lehrer: Explorers of the Body . USA 1979
  5. On this day . RSC Learn Chemistry
  6. Ernst Kern : Seeing - Thinking - Acting of a surgeon in the 20th century. ecomed, Landsberg am Lech 2000, ISBN 3-609-20149-5 , p. 195.
  7. Who discovered penicillin - Fleming or Lister? In: Doctors newspaper. November 9, 2004.
  8. The members of the order. 2nd volume, Gebr. Mann Verlag, Berlin 1978, ISBN 3-7861-1125-1 , p. 26.
  9. Kenneth John Bertrand, Fred G. Alberts: Geographic Names of Antarctica  - Internet Archive . US Government Printing Office, Washington 1956, p. 194.