Picture of the Day: When the NIH Was Basically Just One Guy

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The National Institutes of Health is a massive operation composed of 27 different institutes now and paying out an annual budget of more than $30 billion.

But it wasn't always so. In 1887, at the Marine Hospital on Staten Island, the precursor to the NIH, the Hygenic Laboratory was born. Dr. Joseph Kinyoun worked to get the "germ theory" of infection adopted in the US, collecting pathogens from the blood and stool of the sick.

Kinyoun sailed to Europe for six months to train with the great bacteriologists of his day, including Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur, bringing back laboratory techniques, recipes for effective treatments, and a passionate vision for reforming US health practices, says author and historian Joseph Houts, Kinyoun's great-grandson. "It was in great part due to him that the 'germ theory' made its way back to the United States," Houts adds.

In 1891, the Laboratory moved to Washington, D.C., and Kinyoun "remained the sole full-time staff member" for the next decade. Over the next decades, the medical research infrastructure of the country would continue to grow, but it wasn't until the post-WWII period that the institutes boomed. In 1947, the institute received about 8 million dollars. By 1959, it received $290 million.

And that total has kept growing, crossing a billion dollars of funding by 1966 and 10 billion dollars in 1993.

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Image: National Cancer Institute. Via The Scientist.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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