“I did not invent penicillin. Nature did that. I only discovered it by accident.”

Sir Dr. Alexander Fleming

Few medical discoveries impacted life expectancy and quality of life more than antibiotics. Before their discovery, simple wounds were often fatal. For example, during the US Civil War, most soldiers eventually died from infection, not from their wounds.

No sooner did he return to his lab on Sept. 3, 1928, than Dr. Alexander Fleming, a bacterial researcher, noticed that bacterial growth was oddly inhibited in one of his petri dishes. At first, he called the agent inhibiting the growth, Penicillium, “mould juice” but later changed the name to Penicillin.

Subsequently, many other scientists worked over time refining his innovation into a usable drug, with work rapidly progressing during the onset of WWII. Florey and Chain worked on the core drug and Heatley figure out how to manufacture it in bulk. Fleming, Chain, and Florey shared the Nobel Prize.

Following in the footsteps of other great scientists, Fleming donated his patent rights to the US and UK governments, ensuring penicillin could be widely produced at low cost.

King George VI knighted Fleming in 1944. Although he lived well as a respected academic researcher most financial compensation flowed to others.