Dr. John Matthew Otto

and Smallpox Inoculation in Bethlehem

In 1773, after another outbreak of smallpox, Moravian doctor Matthew John Otto proposes the still new process of inoculation in Bethlehem – grafting smallpox infected skin onto uninfected persons. The family of William Boehler volunteers to be the first test subjects.  The process goes smoothly, and Otto successfully prevents the rampant spread of smallpox in the Bethlehem area by inoculating a number of children and adults.

Although inoculation had been introduced in New England in the 1720s, the practice had yet to become commonplace for its unpredictable results.  It wasn’t until after 1796, when Edward Jenner discovered a successful inoculation using cowpox (which he later termed “vaccination”) that small-pox outbreaks could be truly combated. More information on this story can be found here:


Edward Jenner

Sources: Riedel, Stefan. “Edward Jenner and the History of Smallpox and Vaccination.” National Library of Medicine (NCIS). January 2005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200696/. Accessed May 17, 2018; Levering, Joseph M. A History of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 1741-1892. Times Publishing: Bethlehem, 1903.