Joseph Meister

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Joseph Meister in 1885

Joseph Meister (21 February 1876 – 24 June 1940) was the first person to be inoculated against rabies by Louis Pasteur, and the first person to be successfully treated for the infection.

In 1885, nine-year-old Meister was badly bitten by a rabid dog. Despite the fact that he could have been prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license as he was not a medical doctor[citation needed], Pasteur decided to treat the boy with a rabies virus vaccine grown in rabbits and weakened by drying, using an untested version of a treatment he had earlier tried on dogs. The treatment was successful and the boy did not develop rabies.[1]

As an adult, Meister served as a caretaker at the Pasteur Institute until his death in 1940 at age 64. On 24 June 1940, ten days after the German army invaded Paris during World War II, Meister committed suicide with his gas furnace.[2][3]

Although often repeated, the version of his suicide stating he chose to commit suicide rather than allow the Wehrmacht to enter the Pasteurs' crypt[4] is not sustainable.[5] Instead, a contemporary journal article[6] as well as the testimony of Meister's granddaughter[7] indicate that he was overwhelmed by the guilt of having sent his family away, thinking it had resulted in their deaths. In a tragic irony, they actually came back the same day he took his life.[8][9]


Meister was played by Dickie Moore in the 1936 film The Story of Louis Pasteur. The story of Meister's potentially dangerous inoculation against rabies by Pasteur was also featured in an episode of the TV series Dark Matters: Twisted But True and the 1974 BBC drama-documentary series Microbes and Men.


  1. ^ René Dubos, Louis Pasteur: Freelance Of Science, Little, Brown and Company, 1950.
  2. ^ Eugène Wollman, Archives de l'Insitut Pasteur, Fond Eugène Wollman, cote WLL1.A.1, "Journal d’Eugene Wollman”, 1940.
  3. ^ Hubert Marneffe, Archives de l'Institut Pasteur, Fond Hubert Marneffe, cote MRF.ARC.13, note d'Hubert Marneffe : "Mort de Joseph Meister".
  4. ^ Asimov, Isaac. The New Intelligent Man's Guide to Science. Basic Books, New York, 1965.
  5. ^ H. D. Dufour et S. B. Carroll,, "Great Myths Die Hard", Nature 502, p. 32–33, 2013.
  6. ^ Veterinary Medicine 35, p. 5538, 1940
  7. ^ Blog de Mijo Demouron, 21 janvier 2008.
  8. ^ Eugène Wollman, Archives de l'Insitut Pasteur, Fond Eugène Wollman, cote WLL1.A.1, "Journal d’Eugene Wollman”, 1940.
  9. ^ Veterinary Medicine 35, p. 5538, 1940

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