Joseph Lister

British surgeon and antiseptic pioneer (1827–1912)

Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister, OM PC PRS FRS (5 April 1827 – 10 February 1912) was a British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery.[1][2]

The Lord Lister

Photograph of Lister in 1902
President of the Royal Society
In office
Preceded byThe Lord Kelvin
Succeeded bySir William Huggins
Personal details
Born(1827-04-05)5 April 1827
Upton House, West Ham, England
Died10 February 1912(1912-02-10) (aged 84)
Walmer, Kent, England
Spouse(s)Agnes Lister (nee Syme)
Alma materUniversity College London
Known forSurgical sterile techniques
AwardsRoyal Medal (1880)
Albert Medal (1894)
Copley Medal (1902)
Scientific career
InstitutionsKing's College London
University of Glasgow
University of Edinburgh
University College London
Lister's carbolic steam spray apparatus, Hunterian Museum, Glasgow

He promoted the idea of sterile surgery while working at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Lister successfully introduced carbolic acid (phenol) to sterilise surgical instruments and to clean wounds.

Applying Louis Pasteur's advances in microbiology, Lister championed the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, so that it became the first widely used antiseptic in surgery.

He knew it was used to ease the stench from fields irrigated with sewage waste. He thought it was safe because fields treated with carbolic acid had no ill-effects on the livestock that grazed on them.

By 1890, Lister stopped using carbolic acid, due to the dangerous side effects for both patient and surgeon. Rather, he began to use a mask and surgical gloves to prevent infection.

Lister's work led to a reduction in post-operative infections (infections after an operation). This made surgery safer for patients. So he became known as the "father of modern surgery".[3]


  1. Cartwright, Frederick F. "Joseph Lister". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  2. Between 1883 and 1897 he was known as Sir Joseph Lister, Bt.
  3. Pitt, Dennis; Aubin, Jean-Michel (1 October 2012). "Joseph Lister: father of modern surgery". Canadian Journal of Surgery. 55 (5): E8–E9. doi:10.1503/cjs.007112. ISSN 0008-428X. PMC 3468637. PMID 22992425.