Union Surgeon-General William Hammond established the Army Medical Museum in May of 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility. Its mission was to study and improve medical conditions during the Civil War. The material collected by the Museum in the course of the conflict would be the basis for a revolutionary reference work detailing every medical condition encountered during the war.
The Museum was designed to teach comprehensive pathology to students, clinicians and pathologists. It had an emphasis on research in disease.
Joseph Janvier Woodward, M.D., was put in charge of the Washington Museum. He had served as an assistant surgeon with the Army of the Potomac, but spent most of his career in the Surgeon-General’s office.
Dr. Woodward had a passionate commitment to the Museum. He supervised the collecting of material that would be presented for publication and the education of new generations of physicians.
Artists were sent to the battlefields to detail the effects of recent wounds, and patients in hospitals were photographed. More than 5,000 illustrations of military surgery were classified and arranged to be available for scientific study.
After the war and into the 20th century, the Museum staff engaged in medical research, including important work on infectious diseases like yellow fever. They made contributions to research on vaccines for typhoid fever. They led campaigns for health education including information on combating sexually transmitted diseases.
The Museum research focused increasingly on pathology, and in the 1940’s it evolved into the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and the National Museum of Health and Medicine . The Library became the National Library of Medicine.
Today’s National Museum of Health and Medicine has a collection of more than one million items. Its concentration reflects the history and practice of American medicine, military medicine and current medical research issues.