Jesse William Lazear

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Jesse William Lazear
Lazear Jesse William 1866-1900.jpg
Jesse William Lazear
Born2 May 1866
Died25 September 1900
Alma materColumbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Johns Hopkins University Washington & Jefferson College

Jesse William Lazear (2 May 1866, in Baltimore – 25 September 1900, in Quemados, Cuba) was an American physician.[1][2][3][4]


Lazear was the son of William and Charlotte née Pettigrew. He attended Trinity Hall Military Academy[5] and Washington & Jefferson College,[6] both in Washington, Pennsylvania, and obtained his Bachelor of Arts in 1889 from Johns Hopkins University and his PhD in Medicine in 1892 from the Medical School at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He did his specialization in Paris at the Institut Pasteur. In 1896 he married Mabel Houston with whom he had two children. He was also a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.[7]


Lazear was a physician at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore starting in 1895, where he studied malaria and yellow fever. In 1900 he reported for duty as the assistant surgeon at Columbia Barracks (Quemados, Cuba) for the United States Army.

After a few months in Quemados, Lazear, together with Walter Reed (1851–1902), James Carroll (1854–1907) and Aristides Agramonte (1869–1931), participated in a commission studying the transmission of yellow fever, the Yellow Fever Board. During his research at Camp Colombia, he confirmed the 1881 hypothesis of Carlos Finlay that mosquitoes transmitted this disease. Lazear was the only member of the commission who had experience working with mosquitoes, and he used mosquito larvae from Finlay's laboratory. He wrote to his wife in a letter dated September 8, 1900, "I rather think I am on the track of the real germ."[8] Lazear deliberately allowed an infected mosquito to bite him in order to study the disease. He contracted the disease and died at age 34, seventeen days after writing his hopeful letter. The fact that this was a deliberate act was covered up at the time—for reasons unknown, but possibly connected with family insurance policies—and the story put about that Lazear had mistaken the mosquito for an uninfected one of a different species. The truth was discovered in 1947 by Philip S. Hench from Lazear's own notebook.[9]

A dormitory at Johns Hopkins University was named after him in honor of his sacrifice, as was a former chemistry building at Washington & Jefferson College, Lazear's alma mater.

There is a memorial in the "Sacrifice" stained glass window at the altar of the War Memorial Chapel at the Washington National Cathedral dedicated to Jesse Lazear showing him, an injection needle and a mosquito.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ del Regato, J A (1986), "Jesse William Lazear: the successful experimental transmission of yellow fever by the mosquito.", Medical Heritage, vol. 2, no. 6, pp. 443–52, PMID 11613919
  2. ^ Carmichael, E B (1972), "Jesse William Lazear.", The Alabama Journal of Medical Sciences (published Jan 1972), vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 102–14, PMID 4556484
  3. ^ Osler, W; Paton, S; Thayer, Ws (August 1901), "Jesse William Lazear Memorial", Science (published August 9, 1901), 14 (345): 225, Bibcode:1901Sci....14..225O, doi:10.1126/science.14.345.225, ISSN 0036-8075, PMID 17797834
  4. ^ "Jesse William Lazear", Science (published Dec 14, 1900), 12 (311): 932–933, December 1900, Bibcode:1900Sci....12..932., doi:10.1126/science.12.311.932, ISSN 0036-8075, PMID 17796027
  5. ^ "Dead Scientist of the Week". May 2, 2010.
  6. ^ "Biography of Jesse W. Lazear". Military Medicine. 2001. Archived from the original on 2008-03-08.
  7. ^ Phi Kappa Psi.; In Keehn; R. D. (1910). Grand catalogue of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity: February 1, 1910. Chicago, IL.
  8. ^ "Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection: The Walter Reed Yellow Fever Commission in Cuba". University of Virginia Health Sciences Library.
  9. ^ Lawrence K. Altman, Who Goes First?: The Story of Self-experimentation in Medicine, pp. 149-150, University of California Press, 1987 ISBN 0520212819.

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