The story of the Wellcome Foundation Ltd.

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This film sets the origins and growth for the Wellcome Foundation Ltd. and the Wellcome Trust in the context of the life and work of Henry S. Wellcome (1853-1936). After briefly describing his early life and adventures, the foundation of Burroughs Wellcome and Co. in 1880, and Wellcome's decision to make Britain rather than the U.S. his permanent base, the film goes on to examine each of his three main areas of activity in more detail: (1) The worldwide commercial expansion of Burroughs Wellcome as a major pharmaceutical manufacturing and wholesale company; (2) The sponsorship of biomedical and pharmaceutical research; (3) The sponsorship of archaeological excavations and the collection of books, manuscripts, instruments, artefacts and images of medical-historical interest. The film concludes with a brief sketch of Wellcome pharmaceutical production and research in the mid-1950s, and of the early work of the Wellcome Trust in sponsoring medical and medical-historical research down to 1955. 7 segments.


London : Wellcome Foundation Film Unit, 1955.

Physical description

1 encoded moving image (28.27 min.) : sound, color



Copyright note

Wellcome Trust

Terms of use


Language note

In English.

Creator/production credits

Produced by the Wellcome Foundation Film Unit. Written and directed by Florence Anthony. Photographed and edited by Douglas Fisher. Commentary spoken by David Lloyd James.


Segment 1 The Wellcome building is introduced. A voice-over gives the history of the Wellcome building over a general shot of Euston Road, London, with red double-decker buses, possibly decorated for the Coronation. Other shots of the Wellcome building are included and there are pans from the rooftop, showing the major buildings of Bloomsbury and over to Big Ben. The early life of Henry Wellcome is covered. Using a model of America, stop frame animation tracks the movements of Wellcome in his early life, from his birth in Wisconsin, his working life in the States and then his travels to Central and South America. This is enhanced by the voice-over commentary, lively music and photographs of Wellcome and his family. In 1880 Wellcome headed for London where he joined Silas Burroughs and they opened an office. Stills show the range of goods they imported as well as their own brand products Hazeline and Keplar. A factory was set up in Dartford, Kent, and foreign trade began - between 1880-1895 their capital had grown from £2000 to £250 000. In 1895, Silas Burroughs died suddenly and Wellcome was left sole owner of the growing business, which continued to flourish. A diagram of a map shows the various locations in which new depots were built in 1910. Time start: 00:00:00:00 Time end: 00:06:53:00 Length: 00:06:53:00
Segment 2 The continuing development of Burroughs Wellcome & Co is covered. We see the range of goods available at the time, showing trade marks and packaging as well as the introduction of the unicorn as Wellcome's trade mark symbol. The development of the business in the 1900s is shown, noting the innovative use of motor vans and conveyor belts. General shots of factory production lines at the making of the film (1955) with women packing bottles of Vasylox, a drug designed to relieve nasal catarrh. To lively music we see automated processes such as bottles being filled with Digoxin tablets, tablet production, phials of Insulin being produced and tubes of Histofax along with ampoules of Ergomatrine maleate on the production line. Staff facilities are illustrated as employees at the Dartford factory enjoy the summer garden party. The works club at Dartford is shown and staff members are seen playing games, running in wheel barrow races and enjoying a small gauge railway. Time start: 00:06:53:00 Time end: 00:11:54:18 Length: 00:05:01:18
Segment 3 Wellcome's commitment to research is looked at, starting with research into acquired immunity / vaccination. As acquired immunity began to be researched, Anti-diptheritic serum was produced by Wellcome and their Physiological Research Laboratories were opened, where luminaries such as Sir Henry Dale worked. The laboratories moved to Langley Court, Kent, where shots are seen of scientists testing drugs and various machines for testing the effectiveness of antidotes are shown. We see the stables where horses are kept for producing serum and the field station in Kent where veterinary research is carried out. Time start: 00:11:54:18 Time end: 00:15:50:24 Length: 00:03:56:06
Segment 4 The setting up of the Wellcome Chemical Research Laboratories in 1896 in Kent is covered. A still is shown of the laboratory where Wellcome research first began on plants and fungi such as ergot, digitalis, cascara bark and nutmeg. We then see the new laboratory at Langley Court showing chemists at work (mid-50s) using laboratory equipment on the development of new drugs from morphine: Kemadrin for Parkinson's disease, Lergine for peptic ulcer, Actidil antihistamine and Themalone, an analgesic. Includes a long shot of Wellcome Research Laboratories with staff relaxing and playing tennis in pleasant surroundings. Time start: 00:15:50:24 Time end: 00:18:14:16 Length: 00:02:23:21
Segment 5 Wellcome's work into tropical diseases from its outset to the date of the film is described. Wellcome funded research at the Gordon Memorial College in Khartoum, directed by Dr. Andrew Balfour. We see a still shot of the Wellcome Bureau of Scientific Research which opened in London in 1913. The Wellcome Building was later constructed on this site in 1932. Interior shots (mid-50s) of the laboratories, scientists researching, jars of parasitic worms, microscopic shots of human blood flukes are included. We see a scientist drawing an insect as well as close shots of various insects, tsetse flies and mosquitoes. Chemists are shown at work synthesising new drugs and there are shots of the chemotherapy labs. Model shots of the Wellcome Museum of Medical Science are shown as are shots of doctors from around the world studying at the museum. Time start: 00:18:14:16 Time end: 00:21:12:13 Length: 00:02:57:26
Segment 6 Wellcome's passionate interest in the history of medicine, which he claims dated from the time he found a flint arrowhead, is described. His love of collecting grew as his wealth grew and we see examples from his collection in the early Wellcome Historical Medical Library, with notable examples shown such as cupping sets, alchemical equipment and Madame Curie's notebooks. At the time of the film the library had the largest collection of medical texts in the world. We then see footage from 'Excavations at Jebel Moya 1910-1914.' This is archive (c. 1912) footage of the excavations by native labourers working and enjoying field sports. Henry Wellcome himself is filmed at the camp. We also see the published results of the archaeological digs. Time start: 00:21:12:13 Time end: 00:25:14:17 Length: 00:04:02:04
Segment 7 The later life of Henry Wellcome is looked at. In 1910, he became a naturalised British subject and was knighted. He died just before his 83rd birthday. In 1924, his businesses were consolidated to the Wellcome Foundation Ltd. This was later re-established as the Wellcome Trust which began to fund medical projects. Over the voice-over commentary there is a still of the New York laboratories and factory and shots of the factories at Dartford followed by shots of Langley Court and finally the Wellcome building. Time start: 00:25:14:17 Time end: 00:28:26:04 Length: 00:03:11:16



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