Joseph Lister (1827-1912) developed antiseptic surgery, saving innumerable patients from the dreadful pain and death of post-surgical infection by ensuring that surgical wounds were sterile. Lister was born in Upton, Essex, the son of a London wine merchant. His father invented the achromatic lens, which led to the development of the modern microscope. The senior Lister naturally encouraged his son's interest in microbiology. After receiving his medical degree from University College Hospital in London in 1852, Lister practiced and taught surgery, first in Edinburgh, Scotland, and from 1860, in Glasgow, Scotland.
As a surgeon, Lister became increasingly disturbed by the high rate of often fatal infections that developed in his patients after surgery. A professor of chemistry, Thomas Anderson (1819-1874), drew Lister's attention to the ideas of French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur. After reading some of Pasteur's findings, Lister concluded that the germs described by Pasteur as being carried in the air caused wound infections. As a result, Lister developed a method to destroy these organisms using carbolic acid as an antiseptic.
Lister first used his new antiseptic surgical technique in March 1865. Although this and many subsequent operations proved the effectiveness of Lister's method to prevent infection, Lister's ideas were opposed by many of his fellow physicians, who thought the antiseptic procedures ridiculously complicated and unnecessary.
In 1877 Lister became a professor at London's King's College Hospital, where he continued to promote his antiseptic methods. He also poineered the use of absorbable sutures (stitches) and the introduction of wound drainage. Eventually the medical community was won over by his success. By the late 1870s and 1880s, Lister had gained many honors (including royal titles) and was a greatly respected figure. He died in 1912.