Journal Article

John Snow: The First Hired Gun?

David E. Lilienfeld

in American Journal of Epidemiology

Published on behalf of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Volume 152, issue 1, pages 4-9
Published in print July 2000 | ISSN: 0002-9262
Published online July 2000 | e-ISSN: 1476-6256 | DOI:
John Snow: The First Hired Gun?

Show Summary Details


The 1854 English cholera outbreak led to reform of Victorian public health legislation, including the Nuisances Removal and Diseases Prevention Act. The reforms threatened the closure of many factories whose fumes were considered hazardous to the public's health. The second witness to appear before the Parliamentary committee considering the reforms was Dr. John Snow. Snow testified on behalf of the manufacturers threatened by the reforms. He stated that the fumes from such establishments were not hazardous. He contended that the workers in these factories did not become ill as a result of their exposures, and therefore these fumes could not be a hazard to the general public's health. Snow also presented data from the 1854 cholera outbreak as the basis for his belief that epidemic diseases were transmitted by water, not air. Although the data concerned cholera, Snow extended the inference to all epidemic diseases. When the committee's report was published, The Lancet chastised Snow in a stinging editorial. Parliament subsequently revised the bill in favor of the manufacturers and passed it into law. The implications of this particular episode in the history of epidemiology are discussed.

Keywords: epidemiology; cholera; history of medicine, 19th cent.; legislation; public health

Journal Article.  5823 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.