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John Shaw Billings (April 12 1838March 11 1913) was a librarian and surgeon best known as the modernizer of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office of the Army and as the first director of the New York Public Librarymarker.


Born in Allensville, Switzerland County, Indianamarker, Billings graduated from Miami Universitymarker in 1857, and from the Medical College of Ohio in 1860. He was medical inspector of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War, then became head of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office in Washington, D.C.marker

The Surgeon General's library that he developed (see Army Medical Museum and Librarymarker) later became the core of the National Library of Medicine. During his time as Director of the Library of the SGO, 1865-1895, he was responsible for the creation of both the Index Medicus (1879) and the Index Catalogue of the Surgeon General's Office (1880).

He was also for some years professor of hygiene in the University of Pennsylvaniamarker. He is also credited with designing the original buildings of Johns Hopkins Hospitalmarker, which opened in 1889. The building with the hospital's trademark dome was subsequently named for Billings.

Dr. Billings received an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1892.

After he left the Surgeon General's Office he united the libraries of New York to form the New York Public Librarymarker and it was Billings who inspired Andrew Carnegie to provide funds for the construction of sixty-five branch libraries throughout New York and 2509 libraries in cities and towns across North America and Britain.

Dr. Billings was the senior editor of books reporting the work of the Committee of Fifty to Investigate the Liquor Problem in the early 1900s. The Committee researched the activities and publications of the Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

He acted as supervisor for the U.S. Census 1880 and 1890. He often collaborated with Herman Hollerith

Billings died in New York Citymarker in 1913, aged 74.


Lydenberg (1924, see below) lists 22 publications by Billings, among them:

  • Principles of Ventilation and Heating (1884)
  • Mortality and Vital Statistics of the United States (1885)
  • National Medical Dictionary (Two volumes, 1889)
  • Description of the Johns Hopkins Hospital (1890)
  • Social Statistics of Cities (Six volumes, for the Eleventh Census)
  • Some Library Problems of Tomorrow (1902)
  • Physiological Aspects of the Liquor Problem (1903)

See also


  • (Garrison's Memoir, p. 411-422)

  • Havighurst, Walter, Men of Old Miami, 1809-1873: A Book of Portraits, New York Citymarker: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1974.


  1. Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland at

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