Modern medicine is nothing short of miraculous, with most of what we know today coming from thousands of years of exploration, trial, and error. These ten museums offer a fascinating and sometimes grotesque chronology of human progress in the realm of medicine.
Musée Fragonard is a Parisian museum specializing in anatomical oddities. It has been in operation since 1766 but didn’t open to the public until 1991. Musée Fragonard is part of the veterinary school, École Nationale Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort. Inside, there are around 4200 animal specimens including a ten-legged sheep, two-headed calf, and a Cyclops colt. As if these creatures weren’t bizarre enough, what really draws people to the museum are the skinned cadavers prepared by Honoré Fragonard, a former professor of anatomy that was ultimately dismissed from the school as a madman. The most iconic one is the ‘Horseman of the Apocalypse,’ which consists of a skinned man riding a horse followed by skinned human fetuses riding horse and sheep fetuses.
Located in Tokyo, the Meguro Parasitological Museum was established by Dr. Satoru Kamegai in 1953. It contains about 1,500 types of parasitical specimens, with over 60,000 individual parasites in total. The museum showcases the sheer diversity of parasites and serves to educate the public beyond the common fears most people have toward them. The second floor of the museum is dedicated to human parasites, their life cycles, and the symptoms they cause during infection of the human host. Indeed, there is something grotesquely fascinating about these creatures.
The Paul Stradins History of Medicine Museum in Riga, Latvia is among the top three largest medical history museums in the world. Here it is possible to explore the development of medicinal practices traced all the way back to ancient times. The museum even has exhibits and artifacts of mythical medicine, once an important component of the healing process. The 18th and 19th century portions depict the exponential expansion of our understandings surrounding interventional medicine and anatomy. The top floor of the museum is dedicated to displaying Latvian achievements in medicine. Latvians are known for their healing spas, and this country is famed for the works of the museum’s namesake, Professor Pail Stradins.
Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum specializes in anatomy. The museum was founded in 1787, and it is housed within the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The specimens are displayed in 19th-century-style cabinets to help contextualize the origins and development of modern medicine from its early days. Some of the most famous items in the museum are Dr. Joseph Hyrtl’s human skull collection, a plaster cast and the conjoined liver of famed ‘Siamese twins,’ Chang and Eng, a piece of the infamous John Wilkes Booth’s vertebra, and much more. The museum also has an education program geared towards adolescents.
Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, Saint Paul (MN)
While most of the other museums on our list were founded with the intention of educating the public about the progression of medicinal practices on a trajectory that has brought us the marvelous breakthroughs of modern medicine, the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices has a different angle. This institution serves to display all of the utterly useless and downright bizarre things people of the past have implemented in attempts to cure the ailments of the day. One popular item here is the psychograph, which supposedly determined various elements of a person’s personality by analyzing small bumps on their head.
The renowned Glore Psychiatric Museum recounts the history of psychiatry by exploring that of Saint Joseph’s Lunatic Asylum, est. 1874. Surgical equipment, tools, documents, and stories are on display at the museum, offering fascinating insights into the often-appalling treatment of the patients as well as the great variety of deeds that led people to wind up here in the first place. For example, one man swallowed 453 nails. The patients’ crafts and drawings are also on display, and many of these things will inspire compassion in most who visit Glore Psychiatric Museum. In fact, the museum was established with the intent of spreading mental health awareness to the public.
The National Museum of Health and Medicine was established during the Civil War to collect specimens and conduct research on military medicine and surgical procedures. The director of the museum asked that doctors in the field collect specimens from dead soldiers and send them to the research center. These body parts primary demonstrated the after effects of amputation and gunshot wounds. Throughout the 20th century, the National Museum of Health and Medicine remained a center for research and anatomical cataloging. These researchers were some of the first to use photomicrographic techniques in their work. Now, the museum is open to the public, and it offers several programs in the realms of health, science, and history.
Founded in 1889, Le Musée des Moulages differs from other medical museums in that it doesn’t have much to offer by way of preserved specimens. Instead, this museum contains around 5,000 waxworks that depict infectious human skin conditions. These wax statues have been used to better understand dermatology, and the collection itself is an important component of 19th-century dermatological history. Housed within the Hôpital St Louis, an institution that was built to treat those with contagious diseases and other ailments that rendered them outcasts, this museum is very secluded from the rest of Paris.
Museum Boerhaave first opened in 1907 when an exhibition of natural science and medicine was held there. In 1928, the museum expanded its collection to include tools, specimens, instruments, and documents that are important to the history of natural sciences including medicine, botany, zoology, astronomy, chemistry, and physics. Today, the museum contains historical medicinal objects and surgical materials that date as far back as the 16th century. For example, there is a surgical tool on display that was designed to reverse the indentation of a man’s skull caused by a bullet wound. Another notable element of the museum is the collection of over 750 embalmed body parts.
Iranian National Museum of Medical Sciences, Tehran
The Iranian National Museum of Medical Sciences was founded in 1997. The museum is located in a historic building, which was restored in preparation for the museum’s opening. Many important Iranian medical officials took part in its founding, and research activities still take place here. The museum contains historic tools and medical manuscripts, and information on nursing, embryology, herbal medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and more. Because this region of the world bears important significance for human history, the Iranian National Museum of Medical Sciences contains some unique historical artifacts. There is even a skull of a 13-year-old girl dating back to 5000 BC.