William Hallock Park

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William Hallock Park

The American physician and public health official William Hallock Park (1863-1939) was the first to systematically apply bacteriology to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of the common infectious diseases.

William Hallock Park was born on Dec. 13, 1863, in New York City. He entered the College of the City of New York in 1878. Graduating in 1883, he entered the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons and received his medical degree in 1886. After serving at Roosevelt Hospital for a few years, he went to Europe in 1889 to study otolaryngology. On his return to the United States he practiced in this field during the next 2 years at Bellevue Hospital, Vanderbilt Clinic of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Roosevelt Hospital, and the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital. While engaged in this work, Park was also developing an interest in the new science of bacteriology, which gradually became of principal importance to him.

In 1893 Park was appointed bacteriological diagnostician and inspector of diphtheria with the New York City Department of Health. Within a few years he was assistant director of the research laboratory and by 1904, director.

The first and greatest achievement of Park and his associates concerned diphtheria; they devised routine methods of diagnosis for the disease. In 1894, when diphtheria antitoxin was discovered in Europe, Park and his staff were the first in the world to devote their energies to its large-scale preparation.

In 1898 Park was appointed adjunct professor of bacteriology and hygiene and a director of the Carnegie Laboratory of the newly merged Medical College of New York and the Bellevue Hospital Medical School. He was made full professor of bacteriology and head of a new department of bacteriology in 1900. In 1914 he was offered the deanship but declined because of conflict with his work with the city. In 1899 he coauthored Bacteriology in Medicine and Surgery: A Practical Manual for Physicians, Health Officers and Students.

Early in the 20th century Park turned his attentions to the problems of milk sanitation, and his paper "The Great Bacterial Contamination of the Milk of Cities" (1901) is considered a landmark in the fight for clean milk.

A significant factor in Park's success was his ability to staff his laboratory with outstanding people and to guide their work in the most fruitful directions. His associates made outstanding contributions to the study of tuberculosis, smallpox, poliomyelitis, influenza, and measles. Park died on April 6, 1939.

Further Reading

The only biography of Park is Wade W. Oliver, The Man Who Lived for Tomorrow: A Biography of William Hallock Park, M.D. (1941), a detailed study of Park's associates as well. See also Paul De Kruif, Microbe Hunters (1926). □