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W.M. Haffkine collection [microfilm]

Identifier: MS Film 36


Microfilmed personal diaries of W.M. Haffkine and published materials from the India Home Department related to the Mulkowal vaccination incident of 1902.


  • 1892-1930


0.8 Linear Feet (36 microfilm rolls)


Physical Location

Materials stored onsite. History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine

Language of Materials

Collection materials primarily in English


Collection is not restricted. Contact the Reference Staff for information regarding access.

Copyright and Re-use Information

Copyright was not transferred to the public domain.

Privacy Information

Archives and manuscript collections may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in any collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications for which the National Library of Medicine assumes no responsibility.

Biographical Note

The son of a Jewish schoolmaster, W. M. Haffkine (born Vladimir Aaronovich Havkin) was born in the prosperous Black Sea port of Odessa. He entered the Faculty of Natural Sciences in the University at Odessa and completed his studies in 1882 with a dissertation on Zoology.

He became the curator of the Zoological Museum in Odessa, but was arrested as a member of a Jewish self-defense organization after the assassination of Tsar Alexander. Released after a trial, he left for Switzerland in 1888 and worked as an assistant at the Geneva medical school for a year.

In 1889 he moved to Paris and started working at the Pasteur Institute where his initial work focused on producing a cholera inoculation. He produced an attenuated form of the bacterium by exposing it to blasts of hot air. A series of animal trials confirmed the efficacy of the inoculation. In July 1892, Haffkine performed his first human test, on himself. During the Indian cholera epidemic of 1893, he traveled to Calcutta and introduced his new prophylactic inoculation. After initial criticism by the local medical bodies, it was widely accepted.

Haffkine came to Bombay at the outbreak of the plague epidemic in Bombay in October 1896. He improvised a laboratory in the Grant Medical College and set to work on preventive and curative measures. A curative serum was tested in four months, but was found to be unreliable; emphasis moved to a preventive vaccine using dead bacteria. A form useful enough for human trials was ready by January 1897, and tested on volunteers at the Byculla jail the next month. Use of the vaccine in the field started immediately.

Recognition followed quickly. The Aga Khan provided a building to house Haffkine's "Plague Research Laboratory" and other prominent citizens of Bombay supported his researches. However, the medical community was not very sympathetic towards him. In 1902 the vaccine apparently caused nineteen cases of tetanus. An inquiry commission indicted Haffkine, who was relieved of his position as Director of the Plague Laboratory. A review of the commission's report by the Lister Institute in England overturned this decision, putting the blame squarely on the doctor who administered the injections, and exonerated Haffkine.

Haffkine returned to France and settled in Boulogne-sur-Seine, and occasionally wrote for medical journals. In 1925, when the Plague Laboratory in Bombay was renamed the "Haffkine Institute", he wrote that "...the work at Bombay absorbed the best years of my life... ". He revisited Odessa in 1927, but could not adapt to the tremendous changes after the revolution. He moved to Lausanne in 1928 and remained there for the last two years of his life.


  3. Encyclopedia Judaica (1971)

Collection Summary

The collection contains 36 microfilm rolls of original materials collected by Edythe Lutzker during her research. The original Haffkine diaries and letters in Series 1 are located in the Jewish National and University Library (Jerusalem); The Mulkowal plague disaster materials are located in the India National Archives. Many of the miscellaneous and unidentified rolls are most likely from India as well, but could be from the Public Record Office, London.

Haffkine's diaries are almost indecipherable due to illegible handwriting, further hindered by the microfilming process. However it can be stated that he recorded his daily events almost to the minute. Scattered throughout his notepads are clippings and business cards he picked up throughout the day's travels. Of note is the "Index of Engagements and Appointments, 1917-1929" which denote the date and time of every meeting he had or event he attended.

Series 2 contains a disorganized collection of the published proceedings and exhibits concerning the Bombay plague outbreak of 1896 and the ultimate Mulkowal vaccination disaster for which Haffkine was tried. Included are various reports from India Home Department offices and commissions, letters and memos between local and national officials, and official proceedings. There are also numerous unidentified and duplicate pieces of correspondence and reports related to the Bombay plague outbreak and subsequent public health response.


Microfilmed personal diaries of W.M. Haffkine and published materials from the India Home Department related to the Mulkowal vaccination incident of 1902.

Physical Location

Materials stored onsite. History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine


Gift, Edythe Lutzker, 1996. Accession #2001-141.

Location of Originals

Haffkine's diaries were microfilmed from materials located in the Jewish National and University Library (Jerusalem, Israel). The Bomby Plague and Mulkowal Incident materialswere microfilmed from materials located in the National Archives of India (New Dehli, India).


Processed by
John P. Rees
Processing Completed
Encoded by
John P. Rees
Finding Aid to the W.M. Haffkine collection [microfilm]1892-1930
Unverified Partial Draft
John P. Rees
2005; 2013
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English
Edition statement

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection Collecting Area

8600 Rockville Pike
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