JF Ptak Sciene Books Post 2507
D.B. Smith's "On Medicinal Leeches", which appeared in the Journal of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (January, 1833, pp 265-271), may or may not have the first illustration in a U.S. journal of a medical leech. Or at least that's according to what D.B. Smith says, who claims that an image of the little critters with multiple jaws and lots of teeth "appeared here for the first time". It seems to be a little late for that to be happening for the first time, as using leeches in medical practice to prevent disease and infection goes back a long way before this article, far beyond the earliest written mention of it goes (in a Galen manuscript, about 2,000 years ago). On the other hand the medical journal was still a pretty new idea at this point in the history of science in the U.S.A--the very first medical (and scientific) journal in general does not appear until 1797 (with the Medical Repository) so it is possible that in the 36 years of scientific/medical journal publishing history to this point it is entirely possible that this short article can claim its "firsts".
The article is not without its very muted bells and whistles, but what attracted me instantly was the bit in it about the leech explorers. The Leech Explorers of 1833--it is an exploit-ish title, perhaps even needing a bit of a Busby Berkeley dance routine to support it in a Leechy Atlas sort of way.
We find out that at about that time, in the 1820's and 1830's at least, there was a bit of a European leech mania. Of course, manias are difficult to explain in their appearance but not so much in their disappearance, and the leeches just got in line with the rest of the other manias, like the dancing mania, tulip mania, bibliomania, arithomania, fortune telling, magnetism mania, and so on.
What happens with the leeches at 1833 is there was a definite leech supply failure--in Paris alone 5 million leeches were used every year, emptying out 300,000 litres of Parisian blood (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica). The demand for leeches was so great that leech dealers would extend their range to Spain, Corsica, Germany, and even to the far reaches of Turkey, and finding no satisfaction, opened their hearts for new and true sources of leeches, and "explored".
For some reason this struck me as enchanting and exotic--images of leech dealers and leech dealer mule trains hauling large buckets of dirt filled with leeches, bumping slowly along at very slow speeds for thousands of miles. And since leeches are living things and need to stay that way in order to function in the medical sense, they need to make the long journey alive and well. I wonder if there were ever leech highwaymen? Or leech saboteurs--competing leech explorer/dealers making life difficult for their competitors, like you might encounter with gold miners. In any event, the Leech Explorers idea was a bright and confused point of light in an otherwise not terribly interesting story about American leeches of 1833.
See: Charles McKay, Memoirs of the Extraordinary Delusions and Popular Madness of Crowds, full text: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24518/24518-h/dvi.html