Anatomical drawing by Joseph Lister, 1850.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The surgeon Joseph Lister (1827-1912) pioneered the use of antiseptics in operations. Lister was convinced that killing all germs that might be in the vicinity of a wound or surgical incision would reduce the risk of infection. To achieve this, he developed a spray to create a fine mist of germ-killing carbolic acid in the air. In practice, the spray made for very unpleasant working conditions in operating theatres. Lister then decided that the spray was unnecesary, so long as the surgeon's hands, the surgical instruments, and the patient's body in the vicinity of the wound were properly disinfected with carbolic acid. Surgeons were initially resistant to Lister's ideas, but by the 1880s his antiseptic practices were becoming widely accepted.