William Beaumont

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For other people named William Beaumont, see William Beaumont (disambiguation).
William Beaumont
William Beaumont painting.jpg
William Beaumont
Born (1785-11-21)November 21, 1785
Lebanon, Connecticut
Died April 25, 1853(1853-04-25) (aged 67)
Nationality United States
Fields Medicine
Known for Research on digestion

William Beaumont (November 21, 1785 – April 25, 1853) was a surgeon in the U.S. Army who became known as the "Father of Gastric Physiology" following his research on human digestion.


Early life[edit]

William Beaumont was born to Samuel and Lucretia Beaumont in Lebanon, Connecticut.[1] In 1811 William trained to become a physician through an apprenticeship with Dr. Truman Powell in St. Albans, Vermont. From 1812 until 1815, Beaumont served as a surgeon's mate in the Army during the War of 1812. After the war ended he started a private practice in Plattsburgh, New York, but by 1819 Beaumont had rejoined the Army as a surgeon. He was assigned a location at Fort Mackinac. Beaumont took a leave in 1821, and married Deborah Green Platt in Plattsburgh, before returning to his post. Deborah was divorced from Nathaniel Platt, whose uncle Zephaniah Platt founded Plattsburgh after the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

Experiments with St. Martin[edit]

From Beaumont's Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion, 1833 (p. 27)

On June 6, 1822, an employee of the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island, named Alexis St. Martin, was accidentally shot in the stomach by a discharge of a shotgun loaded with a buck shot from close range that injured his ribs and his stomach. Dr. Beaumont treated his wound, but expected St. Martin to die from his injuries.[2][3] Despite this dire prediction, St. Martin survived – but with a hole, or fistula, in his stomach that never fully healed. Unable to continue work for the American Fur Company, he was hired as a handyman by Dr. Beaumont.

By August 1825, Beaumont had been relocated to Fort Niagara in New York, and Alexis St. Martin had come with him. Beaumont recognized that he had in St. Martin an unusual opportunity to observe digestive processes. Dr. Beaumont began to perform experiments on digestion using the stomach of St. Martin. Most of the experiments were conducted by tying a piece of food to a string and inserting it through the hole into St. Martin's stomach. Every few hours, Beaumont would remove the food and observe how well it had been digested. Beaumont also extracted a sample of gastric acid from St. Martin's stomach for analysis. In September, Alexis St. Martin ran away from Dr. Beaumont and moved to Canada, leaving Beaumont to concentrate on his duties as an army surgeon but Dr. Beaumont had him caught to continue to exhibit him. Beaumont also used samples of stomach acid taken out of St. Martin to "digest" bits of food in cups. This led to the important discovery that the stomach acid, and not solely the mashing, pounding and squeezing of the stomach, digests the food into nutrients the stomach can use; in other words, digestion was primarily a chemical process and not a mechanical one.

During 1826 and 1827, Dr. Beaumont was stationed at Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1828 he was transferred to St. Louis, Missouri. While en route to St. Louis, Alexis St. Martin was ordered to stop at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, to serve as Dr. Beaumont's handyman again. In early 1831, Dr. Beaumont conducted another set of experiments on St. Martin's stomach, ranging from the simple observation of normal digestion to the effects that temperature, exercise and even emotions have on the digestive process.

Beaumont published the account of his experiments in 1833, as Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice, and the Physiology of Digestion. He and St. Martin parted ways, with Beaumont eventually going to St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Martin to his home in Quebec province, Canada. Off and on for the next twenty years, Beaumont tried to get St. Martin to move to St. Louis, but the move never occurred.


Beaumont died in 1853 as a result of slipping on ice-covered steps. He was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery.

His papers are held at Washington University (St. Louis), School of Medicine, Library, and copies are held at the National Library of Medicine.[4]


Several institutions are named for William Beaumont, including:

In Media[edit]

Selected writings[edit]


  1. ^ Myer, Jesse S. (editor) (1912). Life and Letters of Dr. William Beaumont. St. Louis: C. V. Mosby Company. ISBN 0-8016-0535-0. 
  2. ^ Beaumont, William (1838). Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion. Edinburgh: Maclachlan and Stewart. ISBN 0-486-69213-2. 
  3. ^ Harré, R. (1981). Great Scientific Experiments. Phaidon (Oxford). pp. 39–47. ISBN 0-7148-2096-2. 
  4. ^ "William Beaumont Papers 1812-1959". National Library of Medicine. 
  5. ^ http://www.schoolfamily.com/find-a-school/school/33899-william-beaumont-school
  6. ^ http://www.radiolab.org/2012/apr/02/holey-cow/ Radiolab: "Guts: Holey Cow." WNYC, April 2, 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-30.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]