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Medicine Chest - Burroughs Wellcome & Co

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Credit: `Tabloid' medicine chest in metal case used by Teddy Roosevelt on African Expedition, 1909 (originally catalogued as 1911), made by Burroughs Wellcome and Co., 1900-1909. Chest open one end, some bottles displayed. Graduated matt black perspex background.Science Museum, London.Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Object Details

Mohun, R. Dorsey
Burroughs Wellcome Company
This japanned metal chest was manufactured by London based medical supplier Burroughs, Wellcome & Company during the latter third of the 19th Century. This period is celebrated for its fascination with exploration, and Burroughs Wellcome designed many of the medical chests that accompanied the era's most prominent expeditions, including those undertaken by Henry Morton Stanley, Robert E. Peary and Theodore Roosevelt.
This example is described in the 1895 Burroughs Wellcome catalog as a "Congo" medical chest. The title is certainly appropriate, for that is where the chest was employed, carried by American Richard Dorsey Mohun (1864-1915) during various expeditions within the African Congo between 1880 and 1910. The center compartment contains 36 medicine bottles. The other compartments hold such necessities as bandages and dressings, first aid agents, a hypodermic syringe outfit, and small surgical tools.
In his day, Mohun was acknowledged as one of the most important Americans working in Africa. An entrepreneur and mercenary adventurer, Mohun was involved in numerous exploits in the Congo Free State, including being named representative of King Leopold of Belgium in control of the military operations that led to the establishment of the Belgian Congo in 1908. As one of the most important figures in the region, Mohun reflects American involvement in the development and exploitation of colonial Africa at the turn of the century.
Biographical Note from Arwen Mohun, author of the biography An American Life from the Age of Empire: Richard Dorsey Mohun, (University of Chicago Press):
Richard Dorsey Mohun (1864-1915) was an American citizen who worked in Africa in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was hired by the Congo Free State in 1898 to lead a three-year-long expedition tasked with building a telegraph line from M'Toa on Lake Tanganyika to the Nile. He purchased the medicine chest in London in 1898 as part of the expedition's equipment. Mohun and other expedition members may have used the contents to treat a variety of ailments including malaria and dysentery. Mohun returned to Africa two more times. In 1908, he was appointed co-director of the Ryan-Guggenheim expedition, which prospected for minerals in the Congo on behalf of a group of American investors. In 1911, another job inspecting possible rubber concessions took him to the east coast of Africa on behalf of the Rubber Exploration Company, incorporated in New Jersey. Suffering from Bright's disease and the longterm effects of malaria, he retired to Warrenton, Virginia in 1911. He died of Bright's disease in 1915.
Currently not on view
Credit Line
From Mrs. R. Dorsey Mohun
c. 1880 - 1910
1880 - 1910
ID Number
maker number
accession number
catalog number
Object Name
Medicine Case
medicine case
overall: 8 1/2 in x 10 in x 16 in; 21.59 cm x 25.4 cm x 40.64 cm
overall: 8 1/2 in x 16 in x 10 5/8 in; 21.59 cm x 40.64 cm x 26.9875 cm
place made
United Kingdom: England, London
Associated Place
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Medicine and Science: Medicine
Health & Medicine
National Museum of American History
Exploration and Discovery
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