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Oscar Wilde, Napoleon’s toothbrush, tabloid tales, a medal for bravery and a man on a donkey

henry wellcome 2.jpg

Today is the 75th birthday of the Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s biggest biomedical research funders. While most Nature readers are probably familiar with the Trust’s work, fewer are probably aware of the interesting life of the man who game his name to the charity: Henry Wellcome.

We asked the folks across the road at Wellcome HQ to tell us six things we didn’t know about the man who founded the Trust. Here’s what they came up with:

Henry Wellcome invented the word ‘Tabloid’ to describe the small drug tablets his company manufactured.

Among the famous customers of Wellcome’s company were King Edward VII, Robert Scott (of Antarctic exploration fame) and Haile Selassie.

Wellcome’s famous collection includes Napoleon’s toothbrush, 259 human tattoos, and the death masks of Disraeli and Beethoven, as well as “5 anti-masturbation devices”.

As a child, Henry helped make bullets while his family were besieged by Sioux Indians in Garden City, Minnesota.

The Royal Humane Society awarded Henry a medal for bravery in 1884 for rescuing a woman from drowning.

Although he was born in the Wild West, Henry Wellcome became something of a London socialite in the 19th century, corresponding with society figures such as Oscar Wilde.

Image: before pitching up in England, Wellcome spent time in 1879 searching for quinine in South America. He’s pictured here with his guide and interpreter / Wellcome Library, London.


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