Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome

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Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome

Birthplace: WI, USA
Death: Died in London, United \kingdom
Place of Burial: London, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of Solomon Cummings Wellcome and Mary Curtis
Ex-husband of Syrie Maugham (Barnardo)
Father of Henry Mounteney Wellcome

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome

FATHER: Rev. S. C. Wellcome, an itinerant missionary who travelled and preached in a covered wagon MOTHER: Mary Curtis

Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (August 21, 1853 – July 25, 1936) FRS was an American-British pharmaceutical entrepreneur. He founded the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome & Company with his colleague Silas Burroughs, which is one of the four large companies that merged to form GlaxoSmithKline. In addition, he left a large amount of capital for charitable work in his will, which was used to form the Wellcome Trust, one of the world's largest medical charities. He was a keen collector of medical artifacts.


Henry Solomon Wellcome was born in a frontier log cabin in Almond, Wisconsin to Rev. S. C. Wellcome, an itinerant missionary who travelled and preached in a covered wagon, and Mary Curtis Wellcome. He had an early interest in medicine, particularly marketing. His first product, at the age of 16, was invisible ink (in fact just lemon juice) which he advertised in the Garden City Herald. He was brought up with a strict religious upbringing, particularly with respect to the temperance movement. His father was a strong member of the Second Adventist Church. He was a freemason.

Pharmaceutical executive

In 1880, Henry Wellcome established a pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome & Company, with his colleague Silas Mainville Burroughs. They introduced the selling of medicine in tablet form to England under the 1884 trademark "Tabloid"; previously medicines were sold mostly as powders or liquids. They also introduced direct marketing to doctors, giving them free samples. In 1895, Silas Burroughs died, aged 48, leaving the company in the hands of his partner. The company flourished and Henry Wellcome set up several research laboratories linked to the drug company.

In 1901, Henry Wellcome married Gwendoline Maud Syrie Barnardo, a daughter of orphanage founder Thomas John Barnardo. They had one child, Henry Mounteney Wellcome, born 1903, who was sent to foster parents at the age of about three. He was considered to be sickly at the time, and his parents were spending much time traveling.[citation needed] The marriage was not happy, and in 1909 they separated. After that Syrie had several affairs, including with the department store magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge and William Somerset Maugham with whom she had a child (Mary Elizabeth) and later married. Wellcome sued for divorce in 1915, naming Maugham as co-respondent. This attracted large amounts of publicity that he had previously tried to avoid. Syrie never contested Henry's custody of their child.

In 1910, Wellcome became a British subject and was knighted in 1932. In 1924, Wellcome consolidated all his commercial and non-commercial activities in one holding company, The Wellcome Foundation Ltd.[citation needed] In 1932, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He died of pneumonia in The London Clinic in 1936, aged 82, after an operation, and on his death the Wellcome Trust was established.


In his will, Henry Wellcome vested the entire share capital of his company in individual Trustees, who were charged with spending the income to further human and animal health. The Wellcome Trust is now one of the world's largest private biomedical charities.

The first biography of Wellcome was commissioned by the Wellcome Trust in 1939, by A.W. Haggis, a member of staff at the Historical Medicine Museum Wellcome had established. However, the Trustees were dissatisfied with the final draft of 1942, and the biography was never published (the drafts are, however, freely available for consultation at the Wellcome Library).

A biography of Henry Wellcome was written by Robert Rhodes James and published in 1994. In 2009, An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World, written by Frances Larson, was published by Oxford University Press. It is the first biography of Wellcome to have been published since both his personal and business papers were catalogued.

The Wellcome Trust

Main article: Wellcome Trust

After his death, Wellcome's will was able to contribute to the creation of a global foundation dedicated to improving human and animal health, called the Wellcome Trust. Over the course of the last 70 years, Wellcome's organization has become the largest charity in the UK, providing funding for focus areas such as biomedical science, Technology transfer, Public engagement and Bioethics. Grants and fellowships are available to recipients with goals of translating research into usable health products. The trust currently spends over $600 million a year in medical research training.

Newly started programs by the Wellcome Trust include the creation of research training programs for physicians wishing to pursue careers in academic medicine, which the trust started in October 2010. Also currently, the foundation supports clinicians' research to develop treatments for obesity using natural appetite suppression.


Main article: Wellcome Collection

Wellcome had a passion for collecting medically related artefacts, aiming to create a Museum of Man. He bought very widely anything related to medicine, including Napoleon's toothbrush, currently on display at the Wellcome Collection. By the time of his death there were 125,000 medical objects in the collection, of over one million total. Most of the non-medical objects were dispersed after his death. He was also a keen archaeologist, in particular digging for many years at Jebel Moya, Sudan, hiring 4000 people to excavate.[citation needed] He was one of the first investigators to use kite aerial photography on an archaeological site, with surviving images available in the Wellcome Library.

Parts of his collection have been exhibited in the Science Museum (London) since 1976, and in the Wellcome Collection as the exhibit "Medicine Man" since 2007. His collection of books, paintings, drawings, photographs and other media are available for viewing at the Wellcome Library. In 2003, the Quay Brothers directed a short animated film in tribute to the collection entitled The Phantom Museum.


Alte cymrische Heilkunde : ein Abdruck des historischen Andenkens. Burroughs Wellcome, London digital

The Story of Metlakahtla. London; New York: Saxon, 1887.

Other References

Founder of the Wellcome Foundation

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Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome's Timeline

August 21, 1853
June 26, 1903
Age 49
London, United Kingdom
July 25, 1936
Age 82
London, United \kingdom
August 1936
Age 82
London, United Kingdom