During and shortly following World War II (1939-1945), new "miracle drugs" revolutionized the medical treatment of infections. These new drugs included several types of substances found to have antibacterial (destructive to bacteria) and antiviral (destructive to viruses) properties. One of these classes of drugs was the tetracyclines. Tetracyclines are a family of antibiotics similar to penicillin that have shown themselves to be both nontoxic (nonpoisonous) and effective against a wide range of infections.

Duggar's Research

Aureomycin, the first of the tetracyclines, was discovered in 1948 by American botanist Benjamin Minge Duggar (1872-1956). Duggar was 76 years old at the time of his discovery. He had graduated from the Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College (Mississippi State College) and studied at Alabama's Polytechnic Institute and Harvard University. Duggar later became a professor of botany at the University of Missouri, Washington University, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. He did pioneering research on the tobacco mosaic virus and became widely known for his work with molds and fungi (a group of organisms, such as mushrooms, that lack chlorophyll, roots, stems, or leaves, and reproduce by spores).

Later, as a consultant to the Lederle Division of the American Cyanamid Company, Duggar turned to research on new antibacterial drugs. Although penicillin and streptomycin were being widely used to treat bacterial infections, a number of diseases and strains of bacteria were resistant to the treatments. Duggar focused his research on groups of molds found in soil. He tested more than 3,500 strains of molds before he had a success. In 1945 he tested a sample taken from soil at the University of Missouri campus. A golden-hued (colored) substance produced by the mold exhibited antibiotic properties. After extensive testing, he found it to be active against bacilli, staphylococci, and streptococci (all forms of bacteria). Duggar named the substance aureomycin, from the Latin word "aureus," meaning gold, and the Greek word "mykes," meaning fungus.


Continued testing revealed that aureomycin was effective against 90 percent of bacteria-caused infections. In human trials, the medication was found to be effective against a wide range of infections with minimal side effects. Unlike penicillin and streptomycin, which had to be injected, aureomycin could be taken orally (by mouth). Aureomycin was also effective in treating diseases that did not respond to other antibiotics, such as trachoma, parrot fever, typhus, chlamydias, and mycoplasmas. It was also active against Rocky Mountain spotted fever, an infection which had spread throughout the United States. Caused by a microorganism called rickettsia and transmitted by a tick, the disease was fatal in one out of every five patients. For a time, aureomycin was added to livestock feed to prevent diseases in animals. This practice has been largely discontinued, however, because it breeds bacteria which are immune to the drugs.

Other tetracyclines include terramycin, achromycin and declomycin. Many medical experts consider tetracyclines to be the least toxic and most effective antibiotics next to penicillin. In certain patients, however, they can cause minor side-effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and tooth discoloration. Because the tetracyclines have been used so widely against a variety of diseases, several strains of bacteria have developed resistance to them. As a result, physicians often prescribe other antibiotics for common urinary tract and respiratory (having to do with the lungs and upper chest) infections.

User Contributions:

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Jun 1, 2010 @ 3:15 pm
In 1948 or 1949, at age of about 6, I was in Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. with a ruptured appendix. I was later told that the doctors told my parents that there was little chance I would survive, but that experiments were being done at John Hopkins on a new drug called aureomycin. Permission was given to use it on me. I was in the hospital for over a month and survived. I was also told that I was the first person to have been given aureomycin. To this day, I have always wondered if that was true. Is there any way this can be verified? Thanks!
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Sep 15, 2010 @ 4:04 am
I was seven years old when given aureomycin. I had a horrible reaction to the drug, my throat closed up and I was hospitalized for 3 weeks. the Doctor told me I am alergic to penicillin. This drug almost killed me so I am glad it is no longer in use.
M. Zeitner
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Sep 19, 2010 @ 12:00 am
If I remember correctly, aureomycin (though it may have been one of the other macrolides available in the early- and mid-50's) was one of the favorites in my family doc's "black bag." Whichever one it was, it came as a powder in a Parke Davis container and the grownups said that it tasted like chocolate when it was mixed with water. I was sure none of them had ever tasted it!

Tobey, if you were the first kid in that life-and-death effort, Thanks!
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Nov 13, 2010 @ 6:18 pm
As a new born at the Ohio State University Hospital on 27 December 1949, I was administered aureomycin to each eye.
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Feb 7, 2011 @ 8:20 pm
In response to the user contribution #1. I am from New Zealand. I was 3 years old in 1949 and was in hospital very ill with double pneumonia. My mother's cousin was a drug the time. He heard about a new drug called aureomycin. He got some for me and I survived. I was told that I was the first person in New Zealand to be treated with aureomycin. It saved my life.
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May 18, 2011 @ 11:23 pm
Thanks for the information on Dr. Duggar I have been researching his life and his Discovery for my family History. Dr. Duggar is my husbands Great Grandfather and I am so proud to have him in our Family Legacy.
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Aug 4, 2011 @ 4:16 pm
To Marcee Duggar: Benjamin M. Duggar was one of my father's (Llewellyn) older brothers, and if I can help you in any way with your research (pictures, etc.), I would be glad. Did you go to the reunion in Washington a few years ago? The descendant who knows the most about Duggars is Llewellyn Toulmin of Silver Springs, MD - son of ny sister Mary Duggar Toulmin.
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Nov 23, 2011 @ 11:11 am
I was given aureomycin as a child in the late 40's and threw up every dose. But my mother followed the doctor's orders and made me take every dose. Thinking back later, I thought I was allergic to it until I read that nausea is a common side effect. I am grateful for better antibiotics. Don't even talk to me about The Good Old Days!
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Dec 6, 2011 @ 11:23 pm
I remember Aureomycin ointment in a yellow foil tube in the 1970's.We used it for burn,cuts,infection.It cut healing time unbelievably.It was 20 times better than neosporin.A doctor used it to treat a blood infection when my grandfather's horse ran them into a nasty orange tree.Now its only avalible as an 'opthamolic solution',still good stuff.
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Jan 12, 2012 @ 5:17 pm
In 1948 at the age of 5 I suddenly became ill with symptoms initially thought to be polio. I was immediately admitted to Children's Hospital in Milwaukee, where I was isolated because the doctors couldn't determine what was wrong with me. My mother has told me that I was given Aureomycin, which was an experimental drug at the time, and fortunately it saved my life. I was in the hospital for several weeks,and was given many injections, presumably of the drug I was treated with. No one I mention it to has ever heard of the medication, so it was interesting to find it on this website.
Ed Downs
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Sep 21, 2012 @ 1:01 am
I remember being given liquid/oral aureomycin in the early 1950's as a small child. Later in life, I never heard about it. I thought that my mother had probably mispronounced the name of some other medicine. Also, I have a strong memory of staring at the stuff in a big teaspoon -- it was yellow/mustard color, and I hated the taste so much that once I spit out a dose. Decades later, my mother was at death's door and in great pain. She was so upset that I couldn't administer her pain meds. In desperation, I told her to remember the time I spit out the aureomycin, and to please just open her mouth and let me give her the pain meds. She was so surprised by that memory that she came out of her fog, and said "I remember that". That was the last conversation I had with her before she died. So aureomycin brings back memories of the beginning, and the ending, of life.
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Feb 1, 2013 @ 9:09 am
In 1957,at the age of 22, I was serving in the RAF in Malta. My sport was spearfishing and snorkelling. After collecting sacks of sea-urchins for a stall at a summer fete, I had dozens of broken-off sea-urchin spines in my hands. I pulled most out with tweezers, but one, at the base of my right index finger near the knuckle, had turned septic. It was not responding to treatment. In the medical centre I was having regular injections of penicillin to no avail. I had previously had quite a few courses of penicillin to treat boils and carbuncles. I was in pain. The back of my right hand was almost the size of a tennis ball, there were bright red veins running up my arm and there was a golf-ball sized swelling in my right armpit. The doctors were concerned and talking of amputation and flying me back to the UK.

They then mentioned that a new drug called Aureomycin should be worth trying; to be taken by mouth. Good news for my poor pincushion bottom. The effect seemed almost immediate. The swelling on my hand lost its pressure against the bandages. I delighted in squeezing the back of my hand and watching the pus stream out near my index finger. I could sense that the heat was off and the swellings becoming 'slacker'. Four days later I was discharged. Thanks to aureomycin I still have four limbs.
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Mar 8, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
As an infant ( in 1951) I was given Aureomycin for an infection-- almost died from the side effects--soft spot swelled, eyes rolled back, limp body. My mother says she had a feeling that she should not give me another dose. rushed to the hospital for a spinal tap and it was determined that I had a severe allergy to Aureomycin.
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Oct 22, 2013 @ 3:15 pm
Funny about being "first". In 1949 I was 7, at Children's Hospital in Boston, given aureomycin instead of pencillin to combat bacterial meningitis. The girl who shared my room had been in the hospital for a year, being treated with penicillin. We were both lucky to survive, but I was home in weeks rather than months. I was told I was the first or near the first whose meningitis was treated with aureomycin. Who knows? Who cares? Surviving is the important thing.
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Mar 21, 2014 @ 12:12 pm
Can anyone advise when and why the use of Aureomycin was discontinued in humans?
Gervaise Smelser
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Aug 28, 2014 @ 4:16 pm
I've seen references that Aureomycin was discovered by Dr Duggar in 1945. This ties in with what I was told. I was born in 1944. I was given Aureomycin for pneumonitis and my throat closed up! I was young enough that I couldn't explain it, I just kept sticking my fingers into my mouth and my Mother kept pulling them out and telling me "No!" until she realized I was having trouble breathing and rushed me to a hospital. Point is: Maybe I was a first, too. lol
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Nov 26, 2014 @ 12:12 pm
I was diagnosed with bronchiectasis in 1943 or 1944 at age 6 or 7 (I was born March 5, 1937.) Because Aureomycin wasn't available, I had the lower lobe of my lung removed. In the Children's hospital in Los Angeles, I was given 40 injections of penicillin after surgery at $20 a shot to prevent infection. My father earned $17 per week at that time.
I am a retired college Instructor. I had a student that had the same disease and received the same operation when he was 13. He said that he was hospitalized all the time. He never finished my class.
If I was born four or five years later, I wouldn't have had my lung removed, and I wouldn't have had the disfigurement with all of its personal affects. I'm almost 78 and have to take three inhalants twice daily to breathe, but hey! I'm still alive!
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Dec 18, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
I was born in 1946 and remember my mom ALWAYS had powder Aureomycin (like chocolate) that she gave us at the first sign of any cold/flu/fever. I had perfect attendance throughout grammar school and my two sisters and I never had a reaction. Probably not the best treatment considering what we know today, but my mom was a single working mother and the Doctor freely gave it to her.
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Jan 10, 2015 @ 10:10 am
What amazing stories you all have! My father Dr. Thomas Fite Paine did research on auremycin and response to antibiotics (including the speed with which some develop resistance to "bugs." This was in the 1940s, and 1950s. Some of you might be among the cases studies he dealt with. Fascinating!
James C Ward
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May 21, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
In early January of 1949 I was in the hospital at Ft Benning Ga dying of a lung infection. I was being given penicillin shots every three hours to no avail. My fever was over 105 and I was delirious a good bit. Really weird dreams! At one point I woke up to find my Dr,Captain King and three civilians in suits in my room. Dr King told me that I was to receive an experimental drug and that if I was a millionaire I could not buy it. It was given orally and by the next day I knew I would not die. Dr King said later it was AUREOMYCIN and that I was one of the first people in the world to receive it. At 19 years old you recuperate pretty quickly, still, I was kept in the hospital several weeks and then sent home for a thirty day recuperation furlough. I`m 85 now and thank the Lord every day for the coincidence that saved my life. The discovery of AUREOMYCIN and at the same time being in the military!
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Jul 1, 2015 @ 11:23 pm
I am Australian and in 1952 at the age of 2 was potentially dying from bronchiectasus (sorry about spelling). They were unable to treat this further and planned on removal of half my lungs.The doctor then heard of Aureomycin that was experimental in Australia and treated me with it. I am now 65 years old and unfortunately have Leukemia which my professor says would not be linked (just the luck of the draw). If anyone was treated with this drug and contracted Leukemia (ALL) I would be interested to hear.I am in remission now and plan to beat this one as well.
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Jul 9, 2015 @ 2:14 pm
During the winter of 1948/49 I was 12 years old, in the hospital in Goffstown, N. H. with pneumonia. Doctor told my mother to call a priest. Was being given penicillin shots and not getting better. Was in an oxygen tent, had my stomach pumped, blood transfusion, etc. Nothing was working. After six weeks they started giving me the new drug aureomycin and I began to get better. Without that drug I would have died.
William Francke
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Jul 30, 2015 @ 12:00 am
I don't quite remember my age but I was deathly sick. I was able to keep hamburgers down but it would go right thru me. I was basically dying from dehydration. Our family doctor read about this drug, which just came out, and had it flown in from New York city to Rochester New York. It worked on the illness and the doctor admitted to my folks that I basically had only a week or two to live if the medication had not worked. I don't remember having any side effects probably because of the intestinal infection I already had.
I have carried the name of this medication in my memory all these years (70 years young)and thank the Lord for his blessing me with the life I have had.
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Sep 26, 2015 @ 12:00 am
In 1952 I was put in the isolation hospital as they didn't know what was causing my symptoms including a high temperature. I had pennicillin injections for a week, a rash made them decide I was allergic but was then given Aureomycin orally for weeks without effect. Finally I had oral Chloromycetin and began to get better in hours. Doctors didn't tell patients their diagnosis in those days but college friends at my student hostel told me the place had been fumigated because I had typhoid.
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Mar 13, 2016 @ 5:17 pm
In 1950 my Dad was stationed in Cuba. I was 3 years old when I developed orbital cellulitis and was taken to the base hospital. The doctors told my parents that they had just gotten some antibiotic called aureomycin and that they planned to administer it to me. The two side effects that my mother remembered them telling her was that my teeth might be yellow and that they would definitely be soft. And so it was that they were soft. But I'm alive so I guess that's what counts.
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Aug 3, 2016 @ 3:15 pm
I recall being given it back in the 1950's in New Jersey. I must have been 7-8 years old and had Scarlet Fever which is a Strep infection. I remember it came in a cardboard box of glass ampules but I don't recall the taste. I recall that it was bright yellow tho.
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Feb 19, 2018 @ 6:18 pm
I too am from NZ I was born in 1955 and had many years taking Aureomycin for tonsilitis until they were removed at age 9. When I was approx 6 both my front top teeth were snapped off at the gums after a nasty bang. I was told the use of Aureomycin had weakened the teeth at the gum level. I remember a number of years without two front teeth util the adult teeth grew through.

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