For those interested in medical history – a museum with a difference

Adler Museum of Medicine

Take a step back in time and explore the history of medicine, dentistry, ophthalmology and pharmacy through the ages at the Adler Museum of Medicine located at Wits Medical School, 7 York Road, Parktown.

History of the Museum

The Museum was established in 1962 by Dr Cyril and Mrs Esther Adler who together collected a truly remarkable private collection of medical and pharmacological memorabilia. The Museum today forms part of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

What can one see?

Items of historical interest on display include

  • microscopes and other scientific instruments
  • early bleeding and cupping equipment with an exquisitely crafted incision knife
  • ceramic pharmacy jars dating back to the 17th century
  • an exquisite collection of bone china and ceramic feeding cups, some dating from the 18th and 19th centuries
  • an early 19th century wooden handled amputation set in a wooden case
  • diagnostic and surgical instruments
  • treatment apparatus such as one advertised as ‘Patent magnetic electrical machine for nervous diseases’ used by Queen Victoria to ease her rheumatism (19th century)
  • the first electrocardiograph machine (1917) used in the Johannesburg General Hospital
  • a chloroform bottle and mask in leather case used as an anaesthetic in early operations
  • ear trumpets and brass ear syringes (early 20th century)
  • a collection of rare iron lungs (20th century)
  • amongst lots of other hospital and nursing equipment and medical ephemera.

Reconstructions include:

  • an early 20th century Johannesburg pharmacy
  • a dental surgery, a doctor’s consulting room
  • an optometry display
  • a hospital operating theatre of the same period.

The optometry display contains an early 19th century refraction testing set and a collection of old spectacles.

Alternative medicines

A history of scientific medicine is augmented with displays of several alternative modalities practised in South Africa:

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Unani/Tibb
  • Ayurveda
  • Western Herbal Medicine ‘
  • Homoeopathy

An important stream of medicine in Africa, traditional healing, is showcased in the Museum with displays of an African herb shop and a patient consulting a sangoma (traditional healer).

Temporary exhibitions include

  • History of Malaria
  • History of Tuberculosis
  • Advances in Cardiology
  • Asbestos-related lung diseases.

The Museum arranges regular public lectures, tours and temporary exhibitions on various subjects

The Museum is open Mondays to Fridays from 09:00 to 16:00. Closed on weekends and public holidays, 24 December to 4 January. After hours by appointment.

Contact Details:
Faculty of Health Sciences
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
7 York Road, Parktown, 2193
Tel: 011 717-2067
Fax: 0865532483
Url: Details:

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One thought on “For those interested in medical history – a museum with a difference

  1. My late Grandmother and Great Grandmother were both practicing Midwifes in the early 1900.
    I too was a Midwife in 1980. Both Grand and Great grand mother have left me some instruments and their Case Delivey Registers of all their District deliveries.

    I would like to know if you would be interested in these historical pieces

    Yours Sincerely
    Dr Sharon Hampton

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