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The 1700s were a significant time in medicine, as each new discovery made life exponentially safer for the entire population. Disease, illness and even poor eyesight were common ailments that made day-to-day life difficult and were incurable until medical advances and discoveries procured. The preventative care many people take for granted now has helped decrease infant mortality rates, save people from preventable illnesses, and has removed simple but debilitating inconveniences that people dealt with for hundreds of years.


Up until the mid-1700s, thousands of seamen died of scurvy during each voyage due to the large amount of physical labor and lack of well balanced diet available to sailors. In 1747, Scottish Naval Surgeon James Lind discovered that scurvy was preventable by citrus fruit intake. In 1754, his book Treatise of Scurvy was published, which identified the simple solution for avoiding the common and deadly disease, which ended the era of an easily preventable sickness. Although the book was published in 1754, it took some time for the information to spread, and almost 50 years before lemon juice became a requirement to be carried on ships.


Up until the 1200’s, people with poor eyesight simply dealt with their shortcomings. Finally, glasses were invented, which gave people the chance to be unhindered by their eyesight, which was enough for the next 500 years until the 1760s, when Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals. Although there is some speculation about who invented bifocals, Franklin is ultimately given credit. Bifocals are able to accommodate presbyopia, which happens when the crystalline lens of the eye ages and becomes less flexible and unable to change focus. Bifocals provide presbyopic patients with lenses that help people to see up close and far, which make it much easier for people see clearly without carrying around multiple pairs of glasses.


The world’s first vaccine was discovered at the end of the 18th century by English Physician Edward Jenner. Jenner laid the foundation of modern immunology by experimenting with the vaccination of eight-year-old James Phipps, who was his gardener’s son. In 1796, Jenner rubbed cowpox pus onto scratches on Phipps' arm, and six weeks later, exposed him to smallpox; however, no illness developed. The following decades continued to develop more immunizations for various illnesses, and today, vaccines help save the lives of tens of thousands of children each year from diseases like measles, pneumonia and the flu.

While access to basic healthcare varied greatly in the 1700s based on race and class, the medical advancements at that time were very limited for most people. In the last 300 years, the medical developments that doctors and scientists have discovered have helped increase the overall average length of life, as well as infant mortality rates around the world. People have access to tons of information on how to lead healthy lives and what kind of preventative care to use. The healthcare advancements of the 1700s may seem basic, but they laid the foundation for the advanced medical treatment we have today.

About Author


Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.