Skip to main content

“101 More Things…”

March 2023
1min read

As much as I enjoyed the article “101 More Things Every College Graduate Should Know about American History” (December 1987) by Professor Garraty, I was dismayed with item 93. It is a common mistake to cite Sir Alexander Fleming as the sole “inventor” of penicillin. Yes, it is true that in 1928 a penicillin mold did accidentally contaminate one of Sir Alexander’s experiments. Yes, it is true that he noted how well the penicillin mold destoyed bacteria, but Sir Alexander had no idea how important his discovery was and did not follow up the experiment.

The true “inventors” of penicillin are Sir Howard W. Florey and Ernst B. Chain. During World War II these two researched thousands of journals to find a more effective way to treat infection. They found Sir Alexander’s 1928 experiment and understood how important it was from the beginning. It is they who first used penicillin to fight infection. It is they who mobilized the chemical industry to mass-produce penicillin in the only scientific project of World War II that was comparable to the Manhattan Project.

Sir Howard W. Florey and Ernst B. Chain were both duly honored for their work; they, along with Fleming, were awarded the 1945 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. But to his dying day Sir Howard resented that he had to share knighthood and a Nobel Prize with Fleming.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "March 1988"

Authored by: Ivan E. Prall

You probably haven’t seen it, but it’s out by the tracks of the Chicago & North Western

Authored by: The Editors

The nation’s first subway system was launched here in 1897.

Authored by: Oliver Jensen

A man who has spent his life helping transform old photos from agreeable curiosities into a vital historical tool explains their magical power to bring the past into the present

Authored by: Hiller B. Zobel

Every one of the Founding Fathers was a historian—a historian who believed that only history could protect us from tyranny and coercion. In their reactions to the long, bloody pageant of the English past, we can see mirrored the framers’ intent.

Authored by: Richard C. Ryder

It was discovered in New Jersey in 1858, was made into full-size copies sent as far away as Edinburgh, and had a violent run-in with Boss Tweed in 1871. Now, after fifty years out of view, the ugly brute can be seen in Philadelphia.

Authored by: Benjamin Franklin

Only one man would have had the wit, the audacity, and the self-confidence to make the case

Authored by: Walter Karp

The early critics of television predicted the new medium would make Americans passively obedient to the powers that be. But they badly underestimated us.

Authored by: Jack Rudolph

On their weathered stone battlements can
be read the whole history of the three-century
struggle for supremacy in the New World

Authored by: Daniel Aaron

George Templeton Strong was not a public man, and he is not widely known today. But for forty years he kept the best diary—in both historic and literary terms—ever written by an American.

Featured Articles

Rarely has the full story been told about how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.