Today, people take antibiotics like penicillin and amoxicillin for granted. But it was just back in 1945, during World War II, that the “wonder drug” called penicillin first came to North Dakota.
Penicillin’s discovery came from Alexander Fleming, born in Scotland in 1881, who studied medicine and served in World War I as a doctor. Later, in 1928, while experimenting with staphylococcus germs, he observed that mold had accidentally grown upon the germ culture, and the mold killed the bacteria that it touched. Fleming named the active element in the mold “penicillin.” In 1929, he published his findings.
Fleming’s experimental work was continued by bacterial experts at Oxford University during the 1930s. In World War II, British and American military medical teams initiated major advances by producing massive quantities of penicillin to treat battlefield wounds and tropical diseases.
It was on this date, in 1944, that Alexander Fleming informed the public that penicillin was being produced in sufficient doses “to help wounded soldiers” on the battlefields, and would “do far more as the supply” increased. The “wonder drug” was first used by U.S. medics in 1943 at the battle for Tunisia in North Africa.
Government-supported laboratories eventually produced penicillin on a vast scale. How did this affect North Dakota? Well, penicillin not only saved the lives of thousands of North Dakota soldiers in World War II, it also came home to the state in 1944, when the War Production Board allowed restricted access to the wonder drug for civilian use. It came to Bismarck in June 1944, with hospitals receiving enough penicillin to treat “between 100 and 300 patients.” In 1945, the supply improved, and Minot’s doctors also gained access to this new discovery.
And so, penicillin – the miracle medicine found in mold – had arrived in North Dakota’s hospitals, bringing hope to those who suffered from dangerous infections.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.
“Discoverer Stresses Penicillin War Boon,” New York Times, June 12, 1944, p. 5.
“Hope for the Suffering,” Bismarck Tribune, January 21, 1944, p. 4
“2,000 U.S. Hospitals Distribute Penicillin,” Bismarck Tribune, June 10, 1944, p. 3.
“Restriction Dropped,” Bismarck Tribune, March 15, 1945, p. 3.
“Minot Hospitals Permitted to Buy Penicillin,” Minot Daily News, May 5, 1944, p. 1.
Drew Pearson, “Penicillin, 1943-1944,” Bismarck Tribune, November 6, 1944, p. 4.
“N.D. Hospitals to Handle Penicillin,” Bismarck Tribune, May 6, 1944, p. 5.
“World War II: Plasma, Penicillin, And Insecticides,” American Heritage 35, no. 6 (October/November 1984), http://www.americanheritage.com/content/world-war-ii-plasma-penicillin-and-insecticides, accessed on May 7, 2018.
“Sir Alexander Fleming: Biographical,” and “Alexander Fleming, Nobel Lecture,” https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1945/fleming-bio.html, accessed on May 7, 2018.
M.M. Manring, Alan Hawk, Jason H. Calhoun, Romney C. Andersen, “Treatment of War Wounds: A Historical Review,” Clinical Orthopaedic and Related Research 467, no. 8 (August, 2009), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2706344/, accessed on May 7, 2018.
John P. Swann, “The Race to Bring Penicillin to the Troops in W.W. II,” F.D.A. Voice, November 7, 2016, https://blogs.fda.gov/fdavoice/index.php/2016/11/the-race-to-bring-penicillin-to-the-troops-in-wwii/, accessed on May 7, 2018.