Whittemore’s Patent Vaccinator

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A 19th-century automatic vaccinator by Codman & Shurtleff.

This device was patented by Amos Whittemore on February 21, 1866, under U.S. Patent No. 52921 (Patent Claims, 1866, p. 170). The vaccinator is housed in a fitted leather case complete with the original instructions.

The instructions read:

“Place a small quantity of the crust on a piece of glass, and, with water or glycerine, reduce to a paste. Charge the perforator, by drawing across the glass in such a way that the paste will enter the cavity. To vaccinate – press the lever downwards with the thumb; and as the perforator passes within the slotted nipple, press the latter gently against the skin, and continue the motion of the lever until the perforator descends.”

Throughout the 19th-century, several surgical instrument makers supplied both vaccination device and virus for immunity against the deadly smallpox disease. The virus was obtained from the lymph (lesion exudate) or the dried crust of a cowpox or smallpox vesicle. Carefully prepared, the viral matter could be shipped by post with an offer of guarantee by the instrument maker (Codman & Shurtleff, 1875, p. 85).


Codman & Shurtleff. (1875). Illustrated catalogue of surgical instruments and appliances. Boston, Mass.: Codman & Shurtleff, 13 & 15 Tremont Street, Press of T.W. Ripley.

Patent Claims. (1866). Scientific American, 14(11), 168-173. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24973359

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