As Banting himself wrote: “Surgeons were very plentiful in Toronto. It was my greatest ambition to obtain a place on the staff of the hospital, but this was not forthcoming. I left in June 1920 and commenced practice on July 1, 1920, in the city of London, Ontario.”
Sir Frederick Banting worked as a surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto from 1919 – 1920. However, he was unable to get a place on the hospital staff, which is why he moved to London in June 1920. On July 1st, 1920, Banting opened his own practice in London, mainly because he wanted to work in a city that didn’t have as many physicians already practicing. The house he purchased was located at 442 Adelaide St, and it was both his home and his practice for work. This house is also the place where he first came up with his idea for insulin on October 31st, 1920.
“I had no money and even had to cook my own meals on the Bunsen burner in my dispensary. Nor could I go any place for even moving pictures cost money.”
Banting’s practice was not successful financially. In fact, he had financial problems for the majority of his time living in London. To increase his income, he got a job at the University of Western Ontario as an instructor in surgery for their medical school. On October 30th, 1920, Banting was reading articles to prepare to teach a lecture on the endocrine system. It was thanks to these articles that Banting woke up in the middle of the night and made a note to himself. This note about the possibility of treating diabetes would prove to be the start of his discovery of insulin.
“There was only one thing to do to pass the time – so I commenced studying anatomy, physiology and surgery… There was nothing to do but work.”
While working at the University of Western Ontario, Banting assisted Dr. F.R. Miller, a medical research scientist, with his lab experiments. Banting and Miller both published a paper together on “Observations on Cerebellar Stimulations”, Banting’s first of many to come. The University of Western Ontario’s Medical School was undergoing renovations, which is why Banting was unable to pursue his research on insulin in London. Miller referred Banting to Dr. John Macleod at the University of Toronto when Banting first came to him with his idea, so he would have access to a functioning medical facility.
In his memoirs, Banting did not remember London fondly. However, he acknowledged the importance of these problems in leading to his discovery of insulin. If he had more patients as a physician, he would not have needed to get a job at the University of Western Ontario. And if he had not gotten this job, he would not have read those two articles that led him to his idea for insulin. Had he lived a more comfortable, happier life here in London, he would not have discovered insulin.
This blog post was written by Public History MA students
Daniel Farrow (left) and Jared Schutt (right).
2021 is the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin. Learn more about this historic event by visiting Banting House National Historic Site in London, Ontario, and on https://bantinghousenhsc.wordpress.com.