Henry Solomon Wellcome

Owner and Director of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum

Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome FRS was a British-American pharmaceutical entrepreneur. He founded the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome & Company with his colleague Silas Burroughs. In addition, Henry Wellcome collected books and objects, particularly items relating to the history of medicine, on a colossal scale. After World War I, the museum became Wellcome's main interest. He has a network of buying agents, which allowed Wellcome to keep his collecting activity secret. By the time of his death, his collection amounted to around 1.5 million items. The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum was inaugurated on Tuesday, June 24, 1913.

When Sir Henry Wellcome died in July 1936 his executors decided to rationalize his museum’s vast collections and chose to retain only collections relating to the history of medicine. British Museum staff oversaw the distribution (and were given first choice on objects to be distributed) and advised on a representative collection to be sent to Liverpool. Most of Wellcome’s ethnographic and non-medical objects (1,300 cases) were then sent to the British Museum for inspection and were given to other museums through ten ‘distributions’ between 1949 and 1955. Further ‘disposals’ were made between 1978 and 1983. In all, World Museum Liverpool received nine lots of Wellcome material amounting to well over 6000 objects.

Kwasnik, E. I. 1988. Wellcome Historical Medical Museum Documentation Notes and Summary of Work Done 1985-1987 (report on record integration project for Wellcome objects in Liverpool Museum ethnographic collections).

Larson Frances, 2009. An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Russell, Georgina. 1986. The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum’s Dispersal of Non-Medical Material, 1936-1983, Museums Journal, Vol. 86, Supplement 1986.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
  • Nationality
    British; American
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Americas: Northern America: USA: Wisconsin
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Americas: Northern America: USA: Wisconsin
  • Cause of death
    Bladder cancer

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