The Germ Theory Timeline

(formerly known as The Germ Theory Calendar)

William C. Campbell


Software development by
Peter D. Campbell

The Germ Theory Timeline (GTT) is a web-accessible database, intended as a source of information on the historical development of the "germ theory" of disease, i.e. the theory that some diseases are caused by microorganisms.  It deals primarily with diseases of humans and other animals (these being at the center of attention during the evolution of the germ theory) but also includes some diseases of plants.  It ends with the year 1900 C.E. (the Theory having been well established by that time).

Basic functions of the database:

1.  Display by date.

The GTT can be displayed as a timeline in which the years are listed in sequence, and the events or 'Contributions' are recorded according to the year in which they took place.  For each event, the name of the author (contributor) is provided, together with supplemental information (see below).

2.  Display by author.

The GTT can be displayed as an alphabetized list of authors, giving the year of each author's Contribution(s), together with supplemental information (see below).

The term "Author" is used in the broad sense, covering creator, discoverer, originator, recorder.  In condensing the author's contribution into a fairly simple sentence, an attempt has been made to distinguish between the actual discovery or observation, and the recording or publishing of it.  Thus the 'contribution' box generally begins with "Observed that ..." or "Published evidence for ..." or "Recorded that ...," or some such phrase.  The term "recorded" may refer to a notebook or other informal document, where there is clear evidence for the documentation.  No attempt has been made to give both the year of discovery and the year of publication (if different) though this has been done in a few special cases.  Where the author is unknown, "Anon." is recorded in the Author box.

Supplemental information.

Information in addition to 'Date', 'Author' and 'Contribution':

a. Reference.  The GTT is not a bibliography; but most entries provide a skeletal reference to supportive literature.  Where bibliographical information has not been verified by the compiler of the GTT, the Reference box is marked "Anon."  In many cases, further bibliographic information is given in the Notes section.  The more commonly cited works are listed in the selected bibliography at the end of this Introduction.

b. Category.  Each event is arbitrarily assigned to a 'category' according to the nature of the scientific contribution.  The categories are:  Causation, Microscopy, Immunology, Miscellany.  With a single mouse-click, entries can be sorted according to category.

The essence of the germ theory was that certain diseases are not merely correlated with the presence of germs in the body, but are actually caused by the germs.  Entries assigned to the category 'causation' are those that most directly address that issue.  Microscopy provided key tools for establishing the theory.  Immunology, with its practical medical benefits, made the theory more persuasive.  The 'miscellany' category is a repository for events that are related to the theory indirectly and help to provide a context for it.

c. Pathogen Class.  To facilitate sorting, each event is arbitrarily assigned to a 'pathogen class' according to whether the event deals primarily with viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa or helminths.  Assignments are made on the basis of current information, not on the basis of contemporary knowledge.

d. Notes.  Each entry has a designated space for commentary or additional detail.  The notes may further define the event as recorded in the 'Contribution' space; they may provide supplemental literature citation; or reflect the opinion of the compiler of GTT; or refer to other GTT entries, and so on.

Directions for using the database.

The opening list-view provides an overview that can be scrolled up and down to cover the entire database.  On the UPPER LEFT is a "Show Notes Column" hyperlink.  Clicking on this will show the database including the Notes section (Details) of each entry.  In this mode fewer entries can be viewed on the screen at one time, so it is recommended that new users do not click on "Show Notes Column" until they have first examined the features of the list-view that appears when the database is opened (default view).

The default arrangement of entries is by Date (year).  To re-sort by Author, click on Author at the top of the Timeline and wait for the entries to be re-arranged by author name.  Other assortments can be obtained by clicking on Reference, Category or Pathogen Class.  Within any one of these assortments the entries will be sorted alphabetically and sub-sorted by date.  For example, clicking on Pathogen Class will show all the entries for Bacteria, listed by date, followed by the entries for Fungi listed by date.

Clicking on the heading Contribution will show the contributions in alphabetical order, but this is not recommended.  It is almost sure to be a waste of time, especially because the sub-entries (for a given author and year) are designated a, b, c, etc and these will be pooled alphabetically.

For each entry there is a Details option on the far right.  Clicking on Details for a given entry will show the Notes section for that entry.  As stated above the Notes can also be accessed (for the whole database) by clicking on "Show Notes Column".

Search function.

The web browser's built-in Find function can be used to locate all entries containing a given word or phrase in any field.

1.  First click on "Show Notes Column" at top left.  The screen will then show the Notes section in addition to Author, Contribution etc.  (If this is not done, a word that occurs only in the Notes section will not be found.)

2.  Press Ctrl+F (i.e. Ctrl and F keys simultaneously).  In Internet Explorer, the Find dialog box appears.  In Firefox, the Find bar appears at the bottom of the browser window.  Type the sought word in the space provided.  If the word appears in the database it will be highlighted.  Click Next to find the next occurrence.

For the most inclusive search, ensure that the "Match whole word only" and "Match case" checkboxes are not checked.

William C. Campbell, Ph.D.
Hall of Sciences (Biol./RISE)  
Drew UniversityFAX:  (973) 408-3504
Madison, NJ 07940e-mail:

Selected bibliography.

The following works, cited in the Reference field in shortened form, are here given in full.  They are a guide to readily accessible literature, and in some cases additional citations may be found in the Notes section.  Where one of the following works has multiple authorship, only the first name appears in the Reference field; for example, 'Lechevalier' refers to Lechevalier and Solotorovsky (below).

Note added May 17, 2003:  Lee's book 'Dates in Infectious Diseases' was published in 2002 (several years after the development of the GTT).  It differs from GTT in scope, format and intent.

Ainsworth, G. C.  Introduction to the History of Mycology.  Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Bellanti, J. A.  Immunology II.  W. B. Saunders, 1978.

Bibel, D. J.  Milestones in Immunology.  Science Tech (Springer-Verlag), 1988.

Bradbury, S.  The Evolution of the Microscope.  Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1967.

Brock, T. D.  Milestones in Microbiology.  American Society of Microbiology, Washington, D.C., 1961.

Brock, T. D.  Robert Koch:  A Life in Medicine and Bacteriology.  American Society of Microbiology, Washington D.C., 1999.

Bruce-Chwatt, L. J.  Essential Malariology.  Heinemann, 1980.

Bullock, R.  The History of Bacteriology.  Oxford University Press, 1938.

Bynum, W. F.  Science and the Practice of Medicine in the nineteenth Century.  Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Bynum, W. F. and Roy Porter.  Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine.  1993.

Carter, K. C.  The Koch-Pasteur dispute on establishing the cause of anthrax.  Bull. Hist. Med. 62: 42-57, 1988.

Carter, K. C.  The development of Pasteur's concept of disease causation and the emergence of specific causes in nineteenth-century medicine.  Bull. Hist. Med. 65: 528-548, 1991.

Chase, A.  Magic Shots.  Morrow, 1982.

Cirillo, V. J.  Bullets and Bacilli.  Rutgers University Press, 2004.

Collard, P.  The Development of Microbiology.  Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Dobell, C.  Antony Leeuwenhoek and his Little Animals.  Harcourt Brace, 1932.

Doetsch, R. N.  Microbiology: Historical Contributions from 1776 to 1908.  Rutgers University Press, 1960.

Evans, A. S.  Causation and Disease.  Plenum, 1993.

Farley, J.  The Spontaneous Generation Controversy from Descartes to Oparin.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.

Fisher, R. B.  Joseph Lister.  Stein and Day, New York, 1977.

Ford, B. J.  Single Lens.  Harper & Row, New York, 1985.

Foster, W. D.  A History of Medicine, Bacteriology and Immunology.  Heinemann, 1970.

Foster, W. D.  A History of Parasitology.  E. & S. Livingstone, Edinburgh, 1965.

Garrison, F. H.  History of Medicine 4th ed.  W. B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 1929.

Geison, G. L.  The Private Science of Louis Pasteur.  Princeton University Press, 1995.

Graham, H.  Eternal Eve.  Doubleday & Co., 1951.

Grainger, T. H.  A Guide to the history of Bacteriology.  Ronald Press, 1958.

Grove, D.  A History of Human Helminthology.  C.A.B.-International, 1990.

Kean, B. H., Mott, M. D. and Russell, A. J.  Tropical Medicine and Parasitology.  Cornell University Press, 1978.

Latour, B.  The Pasteurization of France.  Harvard University Press, 1988.

Lechevalier, H. A. and Solotorovsky, M.  Three Centuries of Microbiology.  Dover, 1974.

Lee, H. S. J.  Dates in Infectious Diseases.  Parthenon Publishing Group, 2002.

Long, E. R.  A History of Pathology.  Dover Publications, New York, 1965.

McNeil, W. H.  Plagues and Peoples.  Anchor Press, 1976.

McGrew, R. E.  Encyclopedia of Medical History.  McGraw-Hill, 1985.

Magner, L. N.  A History of Medicine.  Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York, 1992.

Norman, J. M. (editor).  Morton's Medical Bibliography. 5th Edition.  Scholar Press, Aldershot, England, pp. 1243, 1991.

Parris, G. K.  A Chronology of Plant Pathology.  Johnson and Sons, Starkville, Mississippi, 1968.

Richards, O. W.  One Hundred years of microscopy in the United States.  Pages 62-75 in Centennial Yearbook of the New York Microscopical Society, 1977.

Richardson, R. G.  Surgery: Old and New Frontiers.  Scribner's, 1968.

Rippon, J. W.  Medical Mycology.  W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia, 1974.

Rosenberg, C. E.  The Cholera Years.  University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Schwabe, C. W.  Veterinary Medicine and Human Health.  Williams and Wilkins, 1964.

Silverstein, A. M.  A History of Immunology.  Academic Press, 1989.

Stalheim, O. H. V.  The Winning of Animal Health.  Iowa State University Press, 1994.

Thorne, G.  Principles of Nematology.  McGraw-Hill, New York, 1961.  (Cited in Notes, but not in Ref. box.)

Waller, J.  The Discovery of the Germ.  Icon Books, 2002.

Worboys, M.  Spreading Germs.  Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Waterson, A. P. and Wilkinson, L.  An Introduction to the History of Virology.  Cambridge University Press, 1968.

Williams, G.  Virus Hunters.  Knopf, 1959.

Wilson, C.  The Invisible World.  1995.

Copyright © 2007- William C. Campbell.  All rights reserved.