Snow, John (1813-1858), the eldest son of a farmer, was born at York on 15 March 1813. He was educated at a private school in his native city until the age of fourteen, when he was apprenticed to William Hardcastle, a surgeon living at Newcastle-on-Tyne. During his apprentice-ship he became a vegetarian and total abstainer. After serving for a short time as a colliery surgeon and unqualified assistant during the cholera epidemic of 1831-2, he became in October 1836 a student at the Hunterian school of medicine in Great Windmill Street, London. He began to attend the medical practice at the Westminster Hospital in the following October, and in October 1838 he became a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, having been admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 2 May 1838. He graduated M.D. of the University of London on 20 Dec. 1844, and in 1850 he was admitted a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians.
He attended with great regularity the meetings of the Westminster Medical Society, where on 16 Oct. 1841 he read a paper on "Asphyxia and on the Resuscitation of New-born Children." In 1852 the society, which afterwards became the Medical Society of London, selected him orator for the ensuing year, and on 10 March 1855 he was inducted into the president's chair. He acted for a short time as lecturer on forensic medicine at the Aldersgate Street school of medicine, an appointment which lapsed when the school came to an end in 1849.
To Snow's scientific insight was due the theory that cholera is communicated by means of a contaminated water-supply, and his essay upon the mode of communication of cholera, which was first published in 1849, was awarded by the Institute of France a prize of 1,200 l. In 1855 a second edition was published, with a much more elaborate investigation of the effect of the water-supply on certain districts of South London in the epidemic of 1854. Meanwhile, in 1846, Snow's attention was arrested by the properties of ether, then newly adopted in America as an anaesthetizing agent. He made great improvements in the method of administering the drug, and then obtained permission to demonstrate his results in the dental out-patient room at St. George's Hospital. These proved to be so satisfactory that he won the confidence of Robert Liston [q. v.], and thus the ether practice in London came almost entirely into his hands. But though he had practically introduced the scientific use of ether into English surgery, Snow had so well balanced a mind that he appreciated the value of other anaesthetizing agents, more particularly chloroform, a drug which he administered to the queen on 7 April 1853, during the birth of Prince Leopold, and again on 14 April 1857 at the birth of Princess Beatrice. Snow died unmarried on 16 June 1858, and was buried in the Brompton cemetery.
Snow's published works, apart from contributions to medical periodicals, are:
1. On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, 8vo, London, 1849 ; 2nd ed. 1855; this work was translated into German, Quedlinburg, 1856.
2. Chloroform and other Anesthetics, edited, with a Memoir, by B. W. Richardson,'8vo, London, 1858. Snow was engaged on this work at the time of his death.
Source: Lee, Sidney (ed.) Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 53 (Smith to Stanger), Smith, Elder, & Co., 15 Waterloo Place, London, 1898.