A Novel Museum in a Historic Town

Marietta will soon be home to a one of a kind museum. The Vaccine Farm is establishing a national museum and resource center addressing the history of vaccines. No such institution exists in the country. The Vaccine Farm will serve a wide, general audience of those seeking historical and educational resources to broaden their understanding of the field of vaccines. The unique nature of this project has drawn collaboration from The Smithsonian Institution, National Institutes of Health, National Museum of Health and Medicine, College of Physicians of Philadelphia and other influential groups.

Medical Revolution in the Rivertown

It should come as no surprise the Vaccine Farm will be housed in Marietta. Marietta is rich in history in its contribution to the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Most notably, the Borough is the birthplace of commercial production of the smallpox vaccine. Dr. H.M. Alexander, a physician in Marietta, founded the Lancaster County Vaccine Farm in 1882. Being a river town, the Borough is an ideal location for distribution of medical supplies. In addition to the smallpox vaccine, Dr. Alexander produced medications for rabies and diphtheria. His “Vaccine Farm” exhibited products at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and was awarded with a special commendation. Dr. Alexander found a world-wide market for the high-quality vaccines and antitoxins his company created, and for a time, out-produced all others. The Lancaster County Vaccine Farms changed the world of commercially produced vaccines.

Much like today, the medical field was constantly changing and advancing during the turn of the century. Changes in legislation required Dr. Alexander to hire a state licensed veterinarian to oversee the welfare and treatment of the livestock used in producing the vaccines and medications. Dr. Alexander hired Dr. Samuel H. Gilliland, V.M.D. to fill this role. Dr. Gilliland would later marry Dr. Alexander’s daughter and was instrumental in continuing Dr. Alexander’s legacy and pharmaceutical business in Marietta. Gilliland Laboratories purchased the Vaccine Farm site in 1922. Upon being acquired by American Home Products, Gilliland Laboratories ended operations in 1943.

Advancements, mergers, and acquisitions didn’t end Marietta’s vital contributions to the medical field. Wyeth Laboratories continued operations in the Borough. The Marietta laboratory site was central to vaccine production for U.S. Military Service during World War II. Additionally, Wyeth was one of only five laboratories selected to produce Polio vaccines for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Marietta produced 150,000 doses of Polio vaccine, ultimately saving countless lives. Wyeth continued to be a pharmaceutical powerhouse in Marietta until ultimately being acquired by Pfizer in 2009.

Forging the Past with the Present

The Vaccine Farm Museum intends to preserve Marietta’s rich history and showcase the vital role the community played in eradicating disease domestically and internationally. Currently, with support from Merck and the Eater Family Foundation, the Museum is undertaking a project to capture and archive first-person testimonials describing the impact the industry had within the community of Marietta. The oral histories will become the basis for documentaries to be used for education and public presentations. Upon completion of the project, a public presentation will occur.

The Vaccine Farm is working with Don Mitchell of Eye Line Productions, LLC to complete the oral histories project. Mr. Mitchell has numerous credits for his directing and producing work in television and film. Most recently he directed and co-executive produced an award winning, feature-length documentary, “Hilleman- A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children”, a scientific biography about the life of renowned microbiologist Maurice Hilleman.

Until a site is found for the permanent facility, the Vaccine Farm will continue to catalog resources and build support for this important project. For more information, please contact Katie Walsh, 717-394-0739 ext. 210 or