Vaccine-Related Medals in the Mütter Collection

August 8, 2017 Karie Youngdahl

Today's blog post is by Mütter Museum and History of Vaccines intern Carley Roche.

The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has a vast collection of medals, pins, and ribbons representing some of the most significant events and people in medical history. Recently I have had the opportunity to reorganize and rehouse this collection. This project has allowed me to closely inspect each item in this particular collection. Below are a few medals representing some of the most influential moments and players in the history of vaccines.

Invasion du Choléra en 1832

Since antiquity historians have written records of disease outbreaks that may have been cholera. However, the seven major pandemics of the disease began being recorded in the early 19th century as knowledge of the disease grew. The second cholera pandemic, which reached East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people from 1829-51. The featured medal’s inscription is in French--Paris, with a population of 650,000 at the time, took a devastating loss of 20,000 people to cholera.

Front and back of cholera medal
Cholera medal, collection of the Mütter Museum

This medal depicts a man using his right arm to keep death at bay while using his left arm to comfort the sick. Underneath the image are the words, “Invasion du Choléra en 1832.” The backside of the metal has a wreath without any sort of inscription. 

World Health Organization. (2017). Global epidemics and impact of cholera. Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Global Alliance Against Cholera. (2017). Cholera pandemics. Retrieved July 19, 2017.

CBS News. (2010, October 22). Cholera’s seven pandemics. Retrieved July 19, 2017.


The Plague of 1894

This medal with a gold and red ribbon shows two medical professionals, one of whom is pushing away death, aiding an ailing man. The inscription on the back of the medal states, “For Services Rendered During the Plague of 1894.” The third plague pandemic began in 1855 in China’s Yunnan province spreading throughout China, India, Australia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas until 1959. This pandemic caused more than 15 million deaths with more than 10 million people dying in India alone.

Plague medal, front and back
Plague medal, collection of the Mütter Museum

The medal presented here is specifically from Hong Kong. In this city, in 1894, bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin isolated the bacterium responsible for the plague--Yersinia pestis. Four years later researcher Paul-Louis Simond successfully showed that fleas act as a vector for spreading the disease. 

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2017). Plague: Disease. Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Frith, J. (April 2012). This history of plague- Part 1. The three great pandemics. Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health, 20(2). Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Stenseth, N. (08 August 2008). Plague through history. Science, 321(5890). Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Cholera Marseille 1835

During the 1830s, Marseille had a rapid population growth; its main source of water came from the Huveaune River and its tributary, the Jarret River. In the 14th century, Marseilles had canalized the rivers; however, with the increasing population, the water quality decreased over time and the canals became open sewers. The cholera pandemic hit France hard, causing approximately 100,000 deaths with 2,500 in Marseille alone. Fearing another sickness like the Great Plague of Marseille nearly a century before, the citizens protested the sanitary conditions of their city. Marseille’s elected officials began work on improving water conditions in Marseille by creating a canal from the nearby Durance River.

Front and back of cholera medal
Cholera medal, collection of the Mütter Museum

The then-utilized coat of arms for the city of Marseille is emblazoned on the front of this medal. The Latin words “Massilia Civitas,” meaning “City of Marseille” are written on a banner in the coat of arms. On the back, enclosed in a wreath, are the words, “Choléra 1835 Marseille Reconnaissante” which translates to, “Cholera 1835 [A] Thankful Marseille.”

Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Marseille. (2005). Le Canal de Marseille. Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Louis Pasteur

Popularly known as the “Father of Microbiology,” Louis Pasteur was a French biologist, microbiologist, and chemist. Pasteur pioneered the germ theory of disease, demonstrated the principles of fermentation and what came to be known as Pasteurization, and created the first vaccines for fowl cholera, anthrax, and rabies. Today, in honor of Louis Pasteur, there is a Pasteur Institute, which includes 133 research units in Paris and 33 institutes throughout the world.

Front and back of Pasteur medal
Pasteur medal, collection of the Mütter Museum

A number of medals honor Louis Pasteur in the Mütter Museum’s collection. This specific one depicts the face of Pasteur on the front with his name, birth year, and death year. The back of the medal shows the Bowl of Hygeia, an olive branch, and a rising sun over the Earth. There is a Latin inscription on the back stating, “Veritatem Umbris Involvtam Evolvit,” which roughly translates to, “The Shadow of Truth Waits.”

Biography. (28 April, 2017). Louis Pasteur. Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Ullmann, A. (2017). Louis Pasteur: French chemist and microbiologist. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Institut Pasteur. (2017). The Institut Pasteur. Retrieved July 19, 2017.

International Congress on Tuberculosis (Washington 1908)

From September 28-October 5, 1908, Washington, DC, hosted the Sixth International Congress on Tuberculosis. President Theodore Roosevelt himself accepted the role of President of the Congress stating, “The importance of the crusade against tuberculosis…cannot be overestimated when it is realized that tuberculosis costs our country two hundred thousand lives a year, and the entire world over a million lives a year…” This was the first instance in which the Congress took place in the United States and has been noted as being a pivotal event in the founding of The American National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, now known as the American Lung Association.

Front and back of TB medal
Tuberculosis congress medal, collection of the Mütter Museum

The medal itself depicts a woman holding an hourglass in her left hand up towards the sky towards a radiating sun. Underneath the sun is the Latin word, “LUMEN,” meaning “light” and beneath her feet is a dragon. This image represents human scientific endeavors reaching enlightenment over time and continued research, which will eventually trample all disease. The backside of the medal shows the American eagle, with stars and stripes at the top. Underneath the words, “International Congress on Tuberculosis Washington 1908” appears with the double-barred cross, representing the fight against tuberculosis, just beneath it.

Chorba, T. (Mar 2015). A master medalist, a president, tuberculosis, and a congress: Contributions more lasting than bronze. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 21(3). Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Knopf, S.A. (1922). A history of the national tuberculosis association: The anti-tuberculosis movement in the United States. New York City, National Tuberculosis Association. Retrieved July 19, 2017.

Robert Koch

Dr. Robert Koch was a German physician and microbiologist known today as the founder of modern bacteriology. Koch identified the specific causative agents of three different infectious diseases: anthrax, cholera, and tuberculosis. His research also led to the creation of a solid medium on which it is easier to grow bacteria. He was recognized for his contributions to public health in 1905 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Today, the Robert Koch Institute stands in Berlin in his honor as research institute responsible for disease control and prevention.

Front and back of Koch medal
Koch medal, collection of the Mütter Museum

Like Louis Pasteur, there are a number of medals in the collection highlighting the achievements of Robert Koch. This face of this particular medal shows his image with the words “Professor Dr. Robert Koch” above him. The Rod of Asclepius, associated with healing and medicine, and an olive branch are beneath him. The back of the medal depicts a woman sitting on a throne overlooking Koch taking the hand of a sick individual while others stand nearby. The German words, “Zur Erinnerung an die Erfindung des Tuberculin Anno 1890” are found at the top. This translates to “In memory of the invention of Tuberculin Year 1890,” which is a purified protein derivative used in the diagnosis of tuberculosis.

Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner was an English physician and scientist known best for the developing the first vaccine. Jenner observed that milkmaids were effectively immune from smallpox. He reasoned these women were protected against smallpox because they came in contact with cowpox, a similar, but less virulent disease. In 1776, Jenner experimented on a young boy named James Phipps by creating a small incision on the boy’s arm and inserting a small amount of pus from a cowpox postule. Phipps, Jenner later proved, was now immune to smallpox. Thus Jenner developed the first vaccine.

Front and back of Jenner medal
Jenner medal, collection of the Mütter Museum

The front of this medal depicts the face of Edward Jenner with his first and last name above him and his birth and death year beneath him. The back of the medal shows an arm with a raised circular mark. This represents the scar that would typically form after Jenner’s vaccination technique. Above the arm are the words representing his scientific contributions, “Introduced Vaccination.”

Riedel, S. (Jan 2005). Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 18(1). Retrieved July 19, 2017.

BBC. (2014). Edward Jenner (1749-1823). Retrieved July 19, 2017.


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