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Rush Archives Blog

From the Rush Archives: Blood Donor Month and Rush's Historic Blood Bank

by Nathalie Wheaton on 2021-01-19T09:00:00-06:00 in History, Archives | Comments

January is National Blood Donor Month! Following the winter holidays, the number of donations is typically lower than average, leading to a critical need for blood.

In 1972, January was declared Blood Donor Month in Chicago to raise awareness of the importance and great need for volunteer blood donations during the month of January.

CAPTION: The refrigerator at Rush's Blood Bank. From Rush's newsletter, NewsRounds, January 1972[1][

But where did the concept of a "Blood Bank" come from?

In 1937, Bernard Fantus, MD, (1874-1940) established what is now recognized as the world's first blood bank when he opened a blood preservation laboratory at Chicago's Cook County Hospital, next-door to Rush. Previously, Fantus had served on the faculty of Rush Medical College, 1918-1931, as Associate Professor of Therapeutics then Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (Therapeutics).

A review of some of Fantus's articles in the Rush Archives* (below) represents the wide range of interests he held throughout his career.

One of the first major implementations of Blood Banks began during World War II for military usage. Rush Medical College's teaching hospital, Rush's historic Presbyterian Hospital, staffed the 13th General Hospital during World War II. 

Presbyterian Hospital's 1941 Annual Report spotlighted the service of the 13th General Hospital, including its Blood Bank.

CAPTION: Blood Exam (left) and Blood Bank Centrifuge (right), 13th General Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital Annual Report, 1941.

From the 1943 Annual Report of Presbyterian Hospital:

"...The blood donor bank offers a very real contribution to the care of hospital patients, its possibilities having been greatly augmented by the experiences of the military forces. The purpose of the blood bank is to have available at all times the various constituents of the blood. Plasma, serum, or red blood cells are in ready access for all emergency needs, at a cost within the ability of the patient to pay, so that there is no unwarranted demand on the charitable funds of the hospital..."

CAPTION: Bernard Fantus, MD, among the faculty in the Rush Medical College Class Composite Photograph, 1924.

*Some of Fantus's articles in the Rush Archives Rush Medical College Faculty Reprints Collection:

  • "The Diagnosis and Treatment of Plumbism," Illinois Medical Journal, May 1910
  • "Fuller's Earth; Its Adsorptive Power, and Its Antidotal Value for Alkaloids," Journal of the American Medical Association, May 29, 1915
  • "Candy Medication," Journal of the American Medical Association, January 1, 1916
  • "An Automatic Method of Prolonged Serial Blood-Pressure Registration in Man," Journal of the American Medical Association, June 16, 1917
  • "The Treatment of Mercuric Chloride Poisoning," Illinois Medical Journal, September 1918
  • "Clinical Observations on Influenza," Journal of the American Medical Association, November 23, 1918
  • "Chlorinated Lime and Halazone in the Disinfection of Drinking Water," The Journal of Infectious Diseases, March 1919
  • "An Experimental Study of the Action of Chloramines," The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, November 1919
  • "The Physician and Prohibition," Journal of the American Medical Association, April 24, 1920
  • "Migraine Therapy," Journal of the American Medical Association, August 7, 1920
  • "An Inquiry Into the Causes for Variation in Determinations of Disinfecting Value," The Journal of Infectious Diseases, April 1920
  • "Iso-Alcoholic Elixers," The Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, July 1920
  • "Dextrose Intravenously," Booklet published by American Hospital Supply Corporation, 1934

Recommended reading:

“Blood Debt” by Jules Reich, Hektoen International: A Journal of the Medical Humanities, Winter 2020

“The Fantus Clinic and the Blood Bank of Chicago,” by George Dunea, MD, Hektoen International: A Journal of the Medical Humanities, Summer 2019

Finding Aid to the Bernard Fantus Collection, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Want to learn more about the history of Rush or the Rush Archives collections? Explore the Rush Archives website, or contact the archivist, Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS. Follow us on Twitter! @RushArchives

All documents and photographs belong to the records collections of Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill. Contact the archivist for permissions and full citations.

[1] archive.org/details/newsrounds19721972rush/page/n5/mode/2up/

[2] archive.org/details/annualreportofpr61pres/page/14/mode/2up


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