A Bloody Business: American Vaccine Production at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Editor’s Note: Patrick M. Walsh is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He studies the the cross-talk between bacteriology, immunology and endocrinology in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Vaccines and Blood
“Preparation of an Antitoxin” at Parke-Davis Laboratories during the 1920s. Left: “Bleeding and siphoning—Collection of blood from the immunized animal in a large bottle containing oxalate.” Right: “Removal of antitoxic plasma by siphoning after the formed elements of the blood have been allowed to settle out.” Source: Parke-Davis and Company Biological Products catalog, c. 1930, Courtesy of AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

Blood is everywhere I look in the Kremers Reference Files (KRF) at the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). It’s in trade manuals published from the 1890s to the 1930s by Parke-Davis, Eli Lilly, and H. K. Mulford. It’s in advertisements from meatpacking-turned-drug companies, including Bovinine and the Cudahy Packing Company. It’s in dusty, century-old newspaper clippings that describe how tons of animal flesh were transported from slaughterhouse to factory line, ripe for experimentation and drug production.

I came to the KRF to start my dissertation work about the American vaccine industry at the turn of the twentieth century, but, instead, all I found was blood. Image after image of blood being suctioned out of stable-bound horses. Blood coursing through plastic tubes that look like fiberoptic cables. Blood being rapidly deposited into oversized receptacles, red foam climbing up the sides of the glass. Some of the images look almost staged—deliberately and self-consciously reenacting a scene from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, then just 80 years old.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I knew before going into the KRF that the vaccine industry was fully launched in the 1890s with the diphtheria antitoxin vaccine, that this was a “serotherapy,” and that all serotherapies involve a process of blood harvesting. It is a vampiric practice by definition. Hundreds of horses stand at attention, and scientists buzz around them like angry mosquitoes, directing their syringes with precision into pulsing jugulars, delighting at the extraction of potent antitoxins that hurtle invisibly through equine vascular systems. Antitoxin-rich blood was as good as gold at the turn of the century, and it brought companies like Parke-Davis and H. K. Mulford material, social, and political capital.

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Crazy Cows, Flea Detectives, and Protesting Songbirds: Exploring the “Animal Turn” in Cannabis History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

The study of non-human animals has become an exciting new direction in history and the broader humanities. In a 2016 issue of Perspectives on History, environmental historian Dan Vandersommers has gone so far as to label this new development “the Animal Turn.” He argues that the impact of animals on human history defies sub-field categorizations, because the very development of organized human societies has been so reliant on intimate human/animal relationships that intersect with too many different fields to ignore.

In my own research, I’ve seen limited examples of these non-human relationships in the history of cannabis in the United States. The brief discussion that follows will demonstrate a range of roles and limited agency for non-human animal actors in these stories. We can also see how human observers have exploited (directly and indirectly) these non-human animal actors in various ways

As discussed in Isaac Campos’s book Home Grown (see pp. 208–17), the accuracy of many newspaper stories reporting on the supposedly hazardous effects of the cannabis plant on cows, horses, goats, and hogs are questionable. These tales arose from a confusion in the Mexican press during the 1920s between marijuana and several other types of “locoweeds.” The stories then spread across the border into the United States in subsequent years. The articles I’ve found, indeed, fail to clearly establish whether or not marijuana was the plant ingested by animals, but the stories do reflect official efforts to pursue and eradicate wild (and clandestine) growth of cannabis throughout the United States after the 1930s.

Featured Image Animals + Drugs

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