Advances in food and medicine

In the 1800s, there were more people to feed and look after.  This puts more stress on finding food and giving health care to everyone.  Medicines had to start improving, and more food was needed to keep up with growing numbers of people moving to America.

Here are some of the advances made in medical and food knowledge at that time.

Advances in medicine.

The American people, and people around the world, we’re becoming more interested in science and inventions.  There was more money to spend on helping scientists doctors and inventors with new ways of doing things.

People became more aware of how the disease was spread and that certain diseases could get a vaccine.  In 1800 Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse introduced the Small Pox vaccine to America.  Small Pox was a deadly disease.

Benjamin Waterhouse
Benjamin Waterhouse

Medical equipment was improving, and in 1816 Rene Laennec invented the stethoscope.  Before the arrival of this instrument, for listening to a heartbeat, the doctor had to rest his ear on the patient’s chest.  This was very difficult and not reliable.  Doctors today still use a stethoscope.

In 1818 James Blundell performed the first successful blood transfusion.  He used a very basic piece of equipment.  It was called an impeller or pump made with a cup, a tube, and a syringe-like injection.  The blood was injected into the patient, and the pump and cup held up high by a helper.   Then blood could transfuse or enter the body of the patient.

In 1820 a book listing all the medicines used was started.  It was called a pharmacopeia.  This was a very good idea because many medicines were used that would not be considered to be safe.  Snake blood was one of those popular medicines for healing all kinds of illnesses.

In 1842 Lemuel Shattuck started registration for births, marriages, and deaths.  This was important because it helped people in medicine to know how many people were being added to the population.  They could see how many deaths there were so they could investigate areas where people were dying and find the cause of death.

Between 1842 and 1846, doctors were starting to use medicines to help put people to sleep during operations.  Crawford Long used ether as a way to anesthetize people.  Ether made patients go to sleep before an operation.  Dr. Horace Wells, a dentist, used nitrous oxide as gas to help with pain while having dental work done.  This gas became known as Happy Gas.  It made people happy and relaxed but did not put them to sleep.

Doctors and scientists around the world were learning about health and hygiene.  During the war from 1812 – 1814, between America and Britain, it was disease and infections that killed more soldiers than bullet wounds.  Scientists were looking at the causes of the spread of disease.  In 1849 a sanitary commission was appointed to look into health and hygiene.  In 1850 Lemuel Shattuck, and some other medical persons, were appointed to start a sanitary survey.  It was a very detailed report but was not approved for several years.

During this time, the first woman, Elizabeth Blackwell, qualified as a doctor.  She set up an organization called Woman’s Central Association of Relief, known as WCAR.  She trained nurses and wanted to see conditions for health and medical help improved.

The fifty years from 1800 – 1850 was a time of learning about health and hygiene not just in hospitals but on the scene of war and in the growing cities around the country.

Advances in food.

The advances in opening railroad connections and many more people moving out to new frontiers in America brought about a greater need for food.  Most people were farmers growing food for their families, but with new railroads and new towns growing, there needed to be more food for everyone.

At this time, most people ate what they grew.  Corn, beans, and other vegetables such as yucca root this was a root like a potato, and it was cut up and boiled.  Bread was made with whole grain flour and baked in a pan.

Meat was mainly pork, and it was smoked or salted to keep it cured.  Bacon was one of the most important meat products.  Food was kept in a root cellar, and some fruits were stored in buckets of sawdust.

Families had to stock up for winter and make sure they grew enough for their needs.  If they went hunting for venison, game meat, they would eat everything: the heart, liver, tongue, and even the intestines.

After 1840 when the railroads were opening, farmers began to change the produce they grew.  They did this to be able to sell food and transport it on the trains.  They began to grow potatoes, barley, and hops.

There were no machines for farmers at this time.  They used horses and oxen to pull ploughs.  Farmers and their families worked all day on the farm, and the farmer’s wife spent most of her day cooking and preparing food for the family.

Facts about the development of medicines and food.

  • Sick people could not afford doctors in those days.  They used home remedies, folk healing, or magic.
  • Healers used to travel and sell their special medicines from their wagons along the road.
  • The bark of the quinquina tree found in South America was ground and mixed with wine to make a drink to stop the fever.  Later it was used to make quinine to prevent malaria.
  • Leeches were used to draw blood off sick people.
  • The leeches in America were not as good at sucking up the blood.  Leeches were imported from Europe to do the blood-sucking known as bloodletting. It was believed that sucking blood off sick people helped to draw out the bad blood and make them well.
  • When people started to need to keep food fresh, they used something called an icebox.  Real ice kept the box cold, and an iceman used to deliver ice to houses to keep the iceboxes cold.  There was no refrigeration in those days.
  • In 1818 beef was very cheap to buy.  It cost 6 – 8 cents for a pound of beef.  Milk was cheap too.  A gallon of milk was 32 cents.
  • In the 1800s, the main meal of the day was called dinner, and it was eaten in the early afternoon.  Supper was eaten in the evening, and it was a smaller meal.
  • In some places, acorns were collected and dried.  Then they were ground to make flour for baking.
  • People took all kinds of poisonous things to get better in those days.  They said if you took a little, you could get better, but if you took too much, it was poison so you would die.  Things like heroin and mercury and even snake blood from China were used as medicine.

What did you learn?

Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse brought a special vaccine to America in 1800.  What was the name of the disease that it prevented?
The disease was called Small Pox.

What piece of medical equipment was invented in 1816 and is still used by doctors today?
It is the stethoscope.

In 1820, a book called the pharmacopeia was used to make a very important medical list.  What was that list used for?
It was a list of medicines.

How did Dr. Horace Wells make going to the dentist easier?
He used nitrous oxide on the patients.  It is a gas and is known as happy gas.

What was started in the early 1800s that made sending large amounts of food to different places easier?
The development of the railway system made transporting food easier.

How did families keep their meat, so it did not rot when they did not have refrigeration?
They cured the meat by smoking it or soaking it in saltwater.

What did farmers start to grow to send to markets by rail?
Farmers grew potatoes, barley, and hops.

What were the main vegetables people ate in the early 1800s?
They ate corn, beans, and the yucca root.