Sternberg, George Miller


Dates:         b. 1838; 1861 to Surgeon General's office; Surgeon General 1893; retired, 1902; d. 1915

Locations:    Assistant Surgeon General (1861‑1865); Medical Director, Government Hospital, Cleveland (1865‑); Walla Walla, Washington (1878); Fort Mason, San Francisco (1881‑1884); Honorary Fellow, Johns Hopkins University (1884‑1892); Director, Hoagland Laboratory (1888‑1893); Deputy Surgeon General United States Army, and Consulting Bacteriologist to the New York Quarantine Station (1892); Surgeon General, (1893‑1902)

Training:      MD College of P & S 1860; 1886 in Koch's Laboratory

Fields:        medical

Publications: winning paper of Lomb Prize of APHA Disinfection and Individual Prophylaxis Against Infectious Disease, (Concord:  Republic Press, 1886); Malaria and Malarial Diseases; "Etiology and Prevention of Yellow Fever," (1890); Manual of Bacteriology (1892); Text Book of Bacteriology (1892 & 1896).

SAB Involvement:  Charter SAB member; elected honorary member 1900; pres. APHA 1885

Archive Files: See, Martha L. Sternberg, George Miller Sternberg:  A Biography (Chicago:  American Medical Association, 1920); D.H. Bergey, "Early Instructors in Bacteriology in the United States," J. of Bact. 2 (1917): 595‑601; Clark, Pioneer Microbiologists of America (Madison:  Univ. of Wisc. Press, 1961), 50‑51. ANB; Malkin, Harold: “The Trials and Tribulations of George Miller Sternberg (1838-1915) – America’s First Bacteriologist” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 36:4, 1993; Gibson, John M. Soldier in White: The Life of General George Miller Sternberg (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 1958); Bibel, Debra Jan: “Sternberg, Metchnikoff and the Phagocytes” Military Medicine 147:550-553, 1982; Nat. Cyc. American Biog. 4, 1897; ANB; DAB



     As an officer for the Surgeon General, Sternberg visited the cholera epidemic at Fort Harker, KS in 1867, the yellow fever outbreaks at Ft. Columbus NY and Barrancas Florida in 1873 and 1875, and in 1879 he was sent to Cuba as a member and Sec. of the commission of the National Board of Health.  In 1880, Sternberg was sent by the National Board of Health to New Orleans to study microorganisms in air in connection to Yellow Fever.  He was a delegate to the International Sanitary Conference in Rome (1885), and in 1887 was detailed by order of Congress to study yellow fever in Central and South America.  He was later responsible for organizing the Yellow Fever Commission in 1900 headed by Walter Reed.  His chief contribution was to disprove many of the suspected microbial agents of Yellow Fever. 

     Sternberg was also the founder of the Army Medical School in Washington in the 1890's.

     This former Surgeon General, translated and published Magnin's textbook, possibly the first such book in America.  Was working on bacteria as early as 1871.  Around 1878, while at Walla Walla, he began his work on the thermal death point of pathogenic organisms and the germicidal value of certain chemical and physical agents.  While at Fort Mason, CA, he equipped a bacteriological laboratory in 1881, and demonstrated the tubercle bacillus and obtained photomicrographs.  The research on disinfectants was continued at D.C. and then Johns Hopkins, published in 1888 for the Transactions of the APHA

     Sternberg was the first to introduce to the American medical profession the bacillus of typhoid fever in a paper delivered before the Association of American Physicians in 1881.  He was also the first American to demonstrate the plasmodium of malaria (1885) discovered by Laveran.

     In 1885, he served on a APHA committee established to evaluate the practice of disinfection.  Sternberg, Vaughan, and Leeds, conducted research at the biological laboratories of JHU, issuing a final report as Rept. of the Comm. on Disinfectants of the Am. Pub. Health Assoc.   In 1886, Sternberg worked for sometime in Koch's laboratory in Berlin, where he repeated the demonstration that he was a "carrier" of a pneumococcus virulent for mice. (51) 

     Around 1886, the directors of the Hoagland Laboratory sought Sternberg as its new chief.  Sternberg, up until 1883, pursued his own investigations at various army posts, often at his own expense.  In 1884, Sternberg was detailed as Attending Surgeon and Examiner of Recruits in Baltimore, and was made an honorary fellow at Hopkins.  Hoagland offered to pay him $500 to give a course of 10 lectures and direct laboratory instruction.  Sternberg, however, was rarely available due to army assignments to study yellow fever in Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Alabama, etc. 

     Sternberg studied the etiology of yellow fever, malaria, syphilis and discovered the pneumococcus in normal sputum in 1881, but did not comment on the etiological importance.

     Sternberg was recalled to New York Harbor in 1892.  He published some six papers on the etiology, epidemiology and prevention of cholera.