Born in a log cabin in Almond, Wisconsin, in 1853, Henry Wellcome was one of the most influential pharmacological entrepreneurs and an avid collector of medical artefacts. Wellcome had reportedly always had an interest in marketing, having developed his first product at 16 when he advertised his invisible ink (just lemon juice) in the local newspaper.
In 1880, Wellcome and colleague Silas Mainville Burroughs founded the London-based Burroughs, Wellcome & Company, specializing in pharmaceuticals. Notably, the company popularized the use of medicine in the form of tablets. Additionally, they pioneered the marketing of pharmaceuticals directly to doctors by offering free samples. The company was incredibly successful and established several research laboratories.
Despite his career success, Wellcome had an unhappy personal life. He and his wife, Gwendoline Maud Syrie Barnardo, eventually separated after having one child who they passed on to foster parents due to their constant traveling. After their separation, Wellcome’s wife had affairs with several men, including celebrated author William Somerset Maugham and Harry Gordon Selfridge of the UK’s Selfridges department stores. These affairs were cited in Wellcome’s file for divorce.
Wellcome died of pneumonia in London, England at age 82. In his will, Wellcome spread his assets among several individual trustees who were instructed to spend his funds to better humanity. These funds were combined to form the Wellcome Trust, which is today the largest charity in the UK and one of the largest medical charities in the world, worth $33.5 billion CAD today. It offers hundreds of millions of dollars a year toward clinical training and biomedical research.
In addition, Wellcome had an impressive collection of medical artifacts (including Napoelon’s toothbrush), which became part of the Wellcome Collection. His archival collection is now stored at the Wellcome Library, and his artefacts can be found in museums across the world. A large part of this collection can be found at the Science Museum in London, England.
If you would like to learn more about these artefacts and many others, click the button below to see our Online Collection Catalogue.