Birth of Scientific Surgery. John Hunter Versus Joseph Lister as the Father or Founder of Scientific Surgery

J Invest Surg. 2010 Feb;23(1):6-11. doi: 10.3109/08941931003597859.


John Hunter (1728-1793) has frequently been considered the "Father or Founder of Scientific Surgery". His inscription at Westminster Abbey presents him as "a gifted interpreter of the Divine Power and wisdom at work in the laws of organic life and the Founder of Scientific Surgery." I take issue with Hunter being considered the father or founder of scientific surgery and propose Joseph Lister (1827-1912) as the one who should receive this consideration. Hunter was a skilled surgeon, an inquisitive innovator, keen observer, great naturalist, and astute thinker, who made no surgical discoveries of any transcendence to the discipline. His scientific observations were not in the field of surgery. Therefore, he should not be considered the "Father or Founder of Scientific Surgery." On the contrary, Lister became a revolutionary scientific innovator by explaining the pervasive role of microorganisms in surgical wounds. His work directly affected surgery and its role in medicine. Lister, therefore, should be considered the "Father or Founder of Scientific Surgery."

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy / history
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Antisepsis / history
  • General Surgery / history*
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenol
  • Surgical Wound Infection / prevention & control
  • United Kingdom


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Phenol

Personal name as subject

  • John Hunter
  • Joseph Lister