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Penicillin: WWII Poster Gallery

On the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, a look back at the unassuming weapon that saved lives during WWII: Penicillin.


Click through the gallery below for a look at some WWII-era posters touting penicillin.




Alexander Fleming couldn’t have imagined it in 1928 when he left a petri dish full of bacteria open to the air and serendipitously cultivated a mold called Penicillium notatum, which killed all the bacteria around it. Though Fleming didn't have the desire or the resources to develop it as a medicine, 15 years later, what he had stumbled upon would be used to combat infection in soldiers during WW II. 

But there were hundreds of thousands of soldiers to treat, which meant massive amounts of penicillin were needed — and fast.

The government sent out a plea to all pharmaceutical producers, but mass production of penicillin owes its successful takeoff to a surprising source. Charles Pfizer & Co., Inc. (now Pfizer, Inc.) used its knowledge of deep-vat fermentation methods created to produce citric acid in commercial quantities for use by soft drink companies to make flavorings. The company turned the huge, industrial-sized vats from making citric acid to the service of creation of penicillin in 1941.

By the end of the war, American pharmaceutical companies collectively were creating 650 billion units of penicillin a month.

Johnna Rizzo


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