Wood, Horatio C

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(b. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 13 January 1841; d. Philadelphia, 3 January 1920)

pharmacology, therapeutics.

Wood’s father, Horatio Curtis Wood, was a successful Philadelphia businessman. His mother, Elizabeth Head Bacon Wood, was descended. like her husband, from English immigrants of the seventeenth century. Wood attended Quaker schools, then in 1862 graduated with an M.D. from the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania. After residencies in the Philadelphia Hospital (Blockley) and the Pennsylvania Hospital, followed by medical service with the Union army, he entered private practice in 1865 or 1866. In 1866 he assumed the chair of botany in the auxiliary faculty of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. In the same year he married Elizabeth Longacre, by whom he had a daughter and three sons, two of whom became physicians.

Wood was a pioneer in experimental pharmacology and therapeutics, supplemented by other contributions to the field of meterica media. About fifty of his nearly three hundred publications dealt with pharmacology, experimental therapeutics, and physiology. A high proportion of this segment of his papers involved laboratory study of the physiological action of drugs in animals, still exceptional at the time. Moreover, Wood understood the import and potential of work by such contemporaries as Oswald Schmiedeberg, A. R. Cushny, Benjamin Ward Richardson, Alexander Crum Brown, Thomas R. Fraser, and Thomas Lauder Brunton. Thus Wood became an early American exponent of the study of the physiological action of drugs under laboratory conditions and of classifying medicines according to such actions, thereby supplanting the primacy of empirical clinical experience as the basic guide to progressive therapeutics.

At the age of twenty Wood published his first paper, “Contributions to the Carboniferous Flora of the United States” (1861). During the 1860’s he published at least eleven papers on freshwater algae and fourteen on the myriopods, thereafter devoting himself increasingly to clinical pathology (especially neurology and psychiatry), experimental pharmacology, and therapeutics. In the latter field his first important experimental paper reported “On the Medical Activity of the Hemp Plant [Marijuana], as Grown in North America” (1869). Among his most important subsequent investigation, as Wood himself believed, were studies of the physiology and treatment of sunstroke, the mechanism and treatment of fever, the discovery of the physiological and therapeutic action of hyoscine, and the treatment of accidents of anesthesia, Wood appears more important as an American exponent of animal experimentation and of the applications of new findings and a new outlook to therapeutics than as an originator of new methods.

Wood’s laboratory did not serve to train a new school of pharmacologists as did that of John J. Abel. The reasons, although never seriously assessed, may relate to their time, funding of the laboratories, and even the personalities of the two men. Abel told G. B. Roth that during the summer of 1884 he served in Wood’s laboratory as “a research assistant, without pay,” then left to study in Ludwig’s laboratory at Leipzig.

Beyond his scientific papers Wood’s strong national influence was mediated by prolific editorial work. His Treatise on Therapeutics. . .(1874). which went through thirteen editions, helped foster the transition from case-based therapeutics to what Wood considered an experiment-based “applied science,” He published five other medical books, He served as senior editor of the ubiquitous Dispensatory of the United States of America for five editions (from the fifteenth edition of 1883), edited at least three medical journals at various times, and from 1866 edited American editions of the British Manual of Materia Medica and Therapeutics (Frederick J . Farre. Robert Bentley, and Robert Warington’s updated abridgment of Jonathan Pereira’s Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics).

The Pharmacopeia of the United States, which generates legally enforceable standards for drugs, had the benefit of Wood’s services from 1890 to 1910 as president of the policy-setting U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention. In 1902 he and Frederick B. Power represented the United States government in Brussels at the International Conference for the Unification of the Formulae of Heroic Medicines.

In 1906 poor health forced Wood to retire from academic work; and he considered that the presidential address he sent in 1910 from his sickbed to the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention brought his career to a close.

If Wood’s professional work was more forward-looking than daring, it accorded with a personality basically conservative, although critically evaluative of the old empirical therapeutics. If the practical dominated the theoretical in his work, he offered in a transitional period a combination of originality, productivity, and literary skill that influenced the shift of American pharmacology and therapeutics toward experimental, quantifiable science.


I. Original Works. A “Bibliographic Record 1860–1911” of Wood’s publications appears in Transactions and Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 3rd ser., 42 (1920), 242–257, which lists seven books on aspects of clinical medicine and materia medica, and published papers that may be classified as 142 on clinical pathology, neurology, medicine, and therapeutics; fifty-four on experimental pharmacology, physiology, and pathology; forty-four published addresses and lectures: fifteen papers on botany: fourteen on entomology; thirteen on medical jurisprudence and toxicology; and the articles primarily for the laity. Some MS material is in the library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Wood’s useful “Reminiscences . . .,” written “toward the close of his life,” were published in the Transactions and Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 3rd ser., 42 (1920), 195–234, with nine topical sections, Most of his publications are likewise in the library of the College of Physicians, and a large majority of them also are in the National Library of Medicine. For orientation to Wood’s level of work, thought, and style, see A Treatise on Therapeutics, Comprising Materia Medica and Toxicology, with Especial Reference to the Application of the Physiological Action of Drugs to Clinical Medicine (Philadelphia, 1874); “Hyoscine; Its Physiological and Therapeutic Action,” in Therapeutic Gazette, 9 (1885), 1–10; and “On the Medical Activity of the Hemp Plant [Marijuana], as Grown in North America,” in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 11 (1869), 226–232. Wood’s first publication was “Contributions to the Carboniferous Flora of the United States,” in Proceedings of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, no. 1 (1860), 236–240. no. 2 (1860), 519–552.

II. Secondary Literature. Roth explains that Horatio C Wood had no middle name, hence insisted that no period be used after the “C” of his name. The varying result in the literature is further aggravated by his father being named Horatio Curtis Wood and his son, Horatio Charles Wood. Jr.

There is no definitive biography of Wood. A reliable article, emphasizing his professional life, is George B. Roth, “An Early American Pharmacologist: Horatio C. Wood (1841–1920),” in Isis, 30 (1939), 37–45. More revealing of his personality are Hobart Amory Hare, “Horatio C. Wood, the Pioneer in American Pharmacology,” in Therapeutic Gazette, 44 (1920), 322–324; and G. E. de Schweinitz, “Dr. H. C. Wood as a Medical Teacher,” in Transactions and Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 3rd ser., 42 (1920), 235–241. Of supplemental usefulness are G. E. de Schweinitz, “Memoir of Dr. H. C Wood,” ibid., pp. 155–165; F. X. Dercum, “Memoir of Dr. H. C Wood,” ibid., pp. 169–169; Charles K. Mills, “Reminiscences of Dr. Horatio C Wood,” ibid., pp. 175–186; Henry Beates, Jr., “Professor Horatio C. Wood,” in American Journal of Pharmacy, 77 (1905), 376–379; Henry Beates, Jr., “Horatio C. Wood, M. D.,” in Medical Record,98 (1920), 393–396; and Family Sketched, Compiled and Arranged by Julianna R. Wood(Philadephia, 1870).

Glenn Sonnedecker