John Shaw Billings (April 12, 1838-March 11, 1913), US physician and librarian

Billings graduated from Miami University in Ohio in 1857 and the Medical College of Ohio in Cincinnati, OH in 1860. During the US Civil War, he served as a surgeon in the US Army, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and the post of Medical Inspector of the Army of the Potomac. He was in the field at the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and served during the Wilderness Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg. He was the first surgeon to successfully remove an ankle joint, a fact which vividly illustrates the primitive state of 19th century medicine.

After the war, for thirty years he headed the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office, which would later become the National Library of Medicine (NLM), and turned a small collection of 2000 volumes into the world’s largest collection of medical literature. He also compiled extensive indexes of medical literature, in 1880 the first volume of a catalogue of the contents of the Surgeon General’s library, and in 1879 the first volume of the Index Medicus, which would later evolve into what is now MEDLINE, the NLM’s online database.

Billings became the first director of the New York Public Library, serving from 1896 to 1913. Planning that institution was a delicate task because it involved the consolidation of three philanthropic libraries created by John Jacob Astor, James Lenox, and Samuel Tilden. He was also involved in the planning of seven hospitals, including Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

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