UPDATED WITH PODCAST Professor Darby of Auburn invented a machine to study air quality in 1859

Prior to the 1880s many physicians believed that diseases such as cholera, chlamydia, or the Black Death were caused by a miasma or a noxious gas (Continued below)


Transcription of a story that was published in The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 02, Summer Issue 1956

We have just learned that Prof. Darby, of Auburn, Alabama, has invented a piece of apparatus, which he calls by the above name, and the object of which is to determine accurately the amount of impurity in any given quantity of air. He does this by causing the air to pass by an ingenious contrivance, through a small quantity of his Prophylactic Fluid, and measuring it as it passes. The Fluid forms the most delicate test for any organic substance known, and such a test as any one can appreciate immediately. The action of organic substance upon it causes it to lose the beautiful purple color which it has.

It is so arranged that the air can be taken from any locality; from the upper or lower part of a room, from a sick bed, or even from the breath of a patient; in fact from any place v/here it is desirable to test the purity of the atmosphere. Its action is certain and sure, and we have no doubt but that it will prove immensely valuable for such a test.

For instance, it is desirable to know the relative amount of organic matter in the atmosphere where malarial fevers prevail, compared with that where other diseases are common, and thus it becomes an important aid in determining the part which the atmosphere has to do in producing these diseases.

By varying the test used, any product which can exist in the atmosphere, any gaseous body, may be sought for with entire certainty in the result. The discovery of the manner of arriving at such results, and the invention of apparatus for such a purpose, will add new laurels to the already widely extended reputation of Prof. Darby. We hope to see a more extended notice of the miasmoter. (Montgomery Mail November 18, 1858. P. 1, Col. 1)

Check out genealogy and novels by Donna R. Causey

The legend of Vinegar of the Four Thieves states that four thieves robbed the homes of many who had died from the plague and one of the robbers was an herbalist. The thieves were finally caught and brought to trial and there are at least two versions of what happened next.

One version states that they were were sentenced to bury the dead from the plague but would be set free if they survived.

Another version states that the robbers were released in exchange for the recipe for the medicine created by the herbalist that saved from getting the plague when they stole from the houses. This tonic has been used for centuries and some people vouch for its effectiveness against illness today.

Discover Thomas Jefferson’s recipe in the book VINEGAR OF THE FOUR THIEVES: Recipes & curious tips from the past Now in paperback


One comment

  1. RE:
    Prof. Darby of Auburn – 1850s

    Mrs. Causey,

    If you know, can you share any research tips of the good professor’s family background?


    Ellis Darby
    Tunica MS

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