This website uses cookies. By using this website, you agree with the use of cookies. Privacy Policy Information

History of Hygiene

Hygieia already knew...

Numerous advances in medicine could not have been achieved without the development of specific and powerful hygiene products - this is shown by the fascinating history of the fight against infections, which begins in ancient history and extends up to the present day.

500 BC: Hygieia – a goddess for health

Already in ancient Greece, they are honoured as an ideal pair: Asclepius, the god of healing and his daughter Hygieia, the goddess of health. The centre of their temple is a round building in which there are holy snakes. There are numerous sleeping places prepared for the sick here, since Asclepius only reveals his healing methods in their dreams.Hygieia – a goddess for health His symbol - the serpent-entwined staff - has become the symbol for the art of healing. The cult surrounding Asclepius and Hygieia spreads throughout entire Greece around the 5th century BC. Reason for this are the rapidly growing cities that are struck by devastating epidemics. In 430 BC a plague reaches Athens. At this time, more than 200,000 people are living within the city walls. Although the basics of hygiene are already known - Athens not only has an extensive freshwater supply system and aqueducts, but also numerous public baths and toilets - the plague rages for two years. One in three inhabitants of Athens dies. In 421 BC the survivors erect the first temple to Asclepius in the city.

375 BC: Hippocrates (460 - 375 BC) - Greek physician and father of scientific medicine

Little is known about Hippocrates' life. The only thing known for certain is that Hippocrates stems from a family of Greek physicians and that he is the founder of the famous school of medicine at the Asclepius temple of Kos. Numerous medical writings were found, which were published under his name and which give an insight into the treatment methods and diagnostic procedures of that time. Even today, doctors swear on the Hippocratic Oath that they will uphold the ethics associated with him and his school. In his work "Epidemic", Hippocrates uses case studies to explain the symptoms and course of a wide variety of infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the reliable and rapid diagnosis of infectious diseases is not able to change anything about the lack of suitable treatment options. Hippocrates is therefore only able to recommend preventive measures for combating epidemics, such as decent hygiene, gymnastics, as well as a healthy diet and life-style.

1348: The black death

In 1346, coming from Asia, the plague reaches the port of Kaffa. At this time, the city has been under siege by the Tartars for three years. When the plague breaks out among the besiegers, they flee, leaving piles of unburied corpses. It is reported that the last thing the Tartars did before fleeing was to catapult infected bodies over the city walls into the city. However, it was probably not the flying corpses that brought the plague to the city - but infected rats. Now that the city is no longer under siege, Genoese traders that were trapped inside the city during the siege travel back to Genoa by ship, and obviously take infected rats with them. As a result, all ports where they call on their journey back home are stricken by plague soon afterwards. By the end of 1347, the plague has reached most of Southern Europe. Venice "invents" quarantine: incoming ships are left untouched for 40 days. This prevents the crew from going ashore, but not the rats. In 1348, the plague reaches both England and Moscow. At the time it is thought that the disease spreads via the sense of smell. In a contemporary report it is stated: "All those who approach those ill with plague shall sprinkle themselves with vinegar, perfume their clothing, and wear masks if necessary. When they are close to the sick, they shall avoid swallowing or breathing through the mouth." The fact is that the people are completely helpless against the disease. During the first great wave of plague alone, Europe loses almost half its population - an estimated 25 million people.

1632: Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632 - 1723) – nature under the lens

Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632 - 1723)There are living beings that are so small that they cannot be seen
with the naked eye: The Dutch merchant Anton van Leeuwenhoek
comes to this conclusion as early as the middle of the 17th century.
He grinds glass lenses, builds the first microscope - and makes
many important biological discoveries. The instrument shows him not only a wide variety of ciliates, through the lenses Leeuwenhoek is also the first to distinguish between the appearance of red and white blood cells. Leeuwenhoek lovingly calls them "animalcules" - the little animals.

1847: Ignaz Philip Semmelweis (1818-1865) - called "The mothers'

Ignaz Philip Semmelweiß (1818-1865) - genannt: DerWhen Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis takes up the appointment as assistant physician at the 1st Maternity Clinic in Vienna, maternal mortality has reached a peak in Europe - the diagnosis is called "child-bed fever". Semmelweis quickly recognises the cause: both doctors as well as midwives and nurses infect the women during delivery with germs that are mainly transmitted via the hands of the clinic staff. Only through washing the hands with chlorinated lime, which Semmelweis introduces into the Vienna clinic in 1847, could maternal mortality be drastically reduced.

Ignaz Philip Semmelweiß
Ignaz Philip Semmelweiß
1867: Sir Joseph Lister (1827-1912) brings carbolic acid into use

In 1860 Joseph Lister becomes a Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University. One problem in particular occupies him: After surgery, many patients develop wound fever, which is usually fatal. Joseph Lister starts investigating and combines the findings from Louis Pasteur in the field of microbiology with the work of François Jules Lemaire on the mechanism of action of carbolic acid. In 1867 Lister has achieved an important research goal: antiseptic wound treatment with carbolic acids as disinfectants.

1882: Robert Koch (1843-1910) – German bacteriologist

 Robert Koch (1843-1910) – ein deutscher Bakteriologe
Robert Koch is the founder of modern bacteriology.
His four fundamental theses on bacterial infections are still valid today.
In 1882 Koch succeeds in isolating the tuberculosis pathogen.

In the following year, when studying in Cairo, he detects the
cholera pathogen in patients, in drinking water, and in food.

In 1905 Robert Koch is awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.


1888: Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) – French chemist and bacteriologist

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) – ein französischerIn his Paris laboratory, Louis Pasteur carries out studies of fermentation and decay. He discovers the very smallest living beings, and describes their involvement in decay and disease processes.
On the basis of his observations, Pasteur develops a method of killing microorganisms by heat and "pasteurisation".
Pasteur is regarded as the founder of microbiology. His work forms the basis of asepsis and antisepsis in surgery. In addition Pasteur develops, among other things, vaccines for anthrax and rabies.

1889: The century of hygiene - development of modern disinfection

The merchants Rudolf Schülke and Julius H. Mayr found a company specializing in the development and manufacturing of disinfectants in Hamburg. The goal of the company is to contribute to the fight against infections by formulating effective and specific hygiene products - successfully, as the record of innovations from Schülke & Mayr GmbH proves.

1889 lysol®
In the very same year in which the company was founded, Schülke & Mayr GmbH produces the first universal brand-name disinfectant, lysol®. Three years later, lysol® is used to combat the cholera epidemic in Hamburg. lysol® has such an optimized formula, that it remains unsurpassed for more than 20 years.

1913 Sagrotan®
Several years later, Schülke & Mayr GmbH develops the disinfectant Sagrotan®, which becomes the symbol and standard for disinfection. Even nowadays, Sagrotan is the "household remedy" among hygiene products.

1920 parmetol®
During the beginning of the twentieth century, the number of tuberculosis diseases is rapidly increasing. Schülke & Mayr GmbH responds with the introduction of parmetol®. parmetol® is characterized by a particularly high effectiveness against tubercle bacilli.

1924 grotan®
With grotan®, Schülke & Mayr GmbH is the first company to succeed in creating an additive suitable for the preservation of readily spoilable products. Microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi are killed with grotan® without changing the properties of the product to be preserved. grotan® is used mainly in the production of glue.

1939 kodan®
This brand becomes the synonyme for skin-disinfection.

1950 gevisol®, havisol®, Ivisol®
Just a few years before the introduction of the first vaccination against polio, Schülke & Mayr GmbH offers three preparations that provide effective protection against infection with polio viruses - the products gevisol®, havisol® and Ivisol®.

1975 gigasept®, 1980 primasept® M.
Perfectly adapted to combating hepatitis B viruses, the products gigasept® and primasept® M. are used successfully throughout the world. primasept® M. is the first hand disinfectant in the world which is effective against hepatitis B viruses.

1892: Cholera-Epidemic in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg

In the London Times of September 2nd 1892, a reporter declares: "Hamburg is the dirtiest city that I have seen this side of the Mediterranean. The tall houses let neither light nor air penetrate into the narrow streets, the pavements are filthy - and then these disgusting canals. Metaphorically speaking, one can see the cholera rising out of the stinking murky water."

The cholera epidemic in Hamburg is the largest that has ever struck Europe. Within two weeks, the number of officially reported cholera cases reaches 1000 per day. Most patients come from the districts near to the harbour. In the St. Pauli district alone, more
than 70,000 people live crowded together.

Three years earlier, the traders Rudolf Schülke and Julius H. Mayr had founded a special company for disinfectants in Hamburg. Their most effective product lysol® is used to successfully combat the cholera, as a certificate from the Hanseatic City of Hamburg proves.

1895: Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923) – German physicist

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923) – ein
In 1895 Wilhelm Röntgen discovers the "röntgen rays" named after
him. As a result of his discovery, medical diagnosis is revolutionized - since Röntgen photographs (= X-ray photographs) allow for a better and more individual treatment of diseases.
In 1901, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen is awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

1920: Tuberculosis spreads

Thomas Mann completes his novel "The Magic Mountain" in September 1924. At this time, neither the routes of transmission of tuberculosis are being consistently blocked with suitable hygiene preparations, nor are there any medicines that promise a reliable cure.
Between 1900 and 1940, more people worldwide die from tuberculosis than from any other infectious disease. As in the Davos sanatorium which is the scenery of Thomas Mann's novel, good food, rest and fresh air are basically the only treatment options available.

Since 1985, the number of tuberculosis infections is again rapidly increasing. Every second patient with acute tuberculosis is infected with a bacterial strain that is resistant against at least one antibiotic. Today, there are many strains that are resistant against four or even seven antibiotics - and in some cases not a single antibiotic is effective. Air circulation systems in aircrafts or fully air-conditioned buildings contribute greatly to the renewed spread of tuberculosis.

1929: Sir Alexander Flemming (1881-1955) – British bacteriologist

Sir Alexander Flemming (1881-1955) – ein britischer

 In 1929, Sir Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin, which is developed based on mould cultures.

In 1939, penicillin is the first antibiotic to be introduced into medicine.

Together with Russian-British chemist Ernst Boris Chain, Fleming is awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1945.

1981: AIDS a new disease emerges

In a short article in 1981, the German magazine "Der Spiegel" reports on an unknown
infection affecting homosexual men in New York and San Francisco. Reports of diseases
among prostitutes, haemophiliacs and drug addicts follow.
Within a few months, it becomes clear that AIDS not only affects certain groups of people, but is a danger to all people throughout the world. It has taken about ten years for the "human
immunodeficiency virus" - the HI virus - to be isolated. At current, there is no prospect of a
vaccine against the HI virus.
According to a UN study from November 1997, in Germany alone, approximately
50 - 60,000 people are infected with the HI virus. 17,000 of those have AIDS. Since the
outbreak of AIDS in 1981, 10,000 people have died as a result of the disease. Worldwide
there are approximately 30 million people infected with HIV - and 16,000 new infections
are reported daily.

The only means of protection: safer sex and highly effective disinfectants.
As early as 1985, Schülke & Mayr GmbH offered a complete, externally tested range of products for skin, hand, instrument and surface disinfection that reliably kills the HI virus.

Today: Multi-resistant microorganisms

Since the end of the seventies, the number of MRSA infections is increasing, especially in
hospital settings. Originally, the abbreviation MRSA stood for methicillin-resistant
Staphylo-coccus aureus. Nowadays, it refers to multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,
which are resistant against almost any type of antibiotic. Against this background,
it becomes clear how important hygienic measures are today, and how much more
important they will be in the future.

Follow us on

Contact us

Schulke Australia Pty Ltd

ABN 49 605 683 172
Suite 3 Level 2 2-4 Lyonpark Road
Macquarie Park NSW 2113

Freecall: 1800 724 855             

Phone:  +61 2 8875 9300
Fax:      +61 2 8875 9301

Schulke New Zealand Limited

Freecall: 0800 724 855
Fax:      +61 2 8875 9301

© 2022 Schulke Australia Pty Ltd |