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A Brief History of the University of Chicago Medicine

A New Century

Although the University of Chicago began in 1890, it was not until 1898 that the University became involved in medicine. Under President William Rainey Harper, Chicago temporarily became affiliated with the Rush Medical College with "the distinct purpose of the University to establish such a Medical School when funds shall have been provided" (Decennial address by Harper, 1902).

Not until 1916 did such an event occur. Initially, the Board of Trustees set aside $5.3 million for construction, equipment, and an endowment. However, World War I put a halt to the development. The project resumed in 1921, eventually reaching completion in 1927. By that time, costs had skyrocketed to nearly five times that of the original estimate.

More Than a Medical School

Dedicated on Halloween in 1927, the University of Chicago Hospitals quickly solidified under the direction of Frank Billings, MD. Expansion quickly followed:

  • In 1928, the Hospitals began construction on the Home for Destitute and Crippled Children.
  • In 1931, it became trustee for the Country Home for Convalescent Children.
  • In 1938, it merged with the Chicago Lying-in Hospital.

Not all growth was planned, though. In 1933, Walter Zoller gave more than $2 million to start a dental program for the poor. His funds were put to good use--by 1946, the Zoller Clinic successfully showed in clinical studies that fluoride in drinking water could help prevent tooth decay.

World War II slowed physical expansion but only speeded research. In addition to training a record number of doctors and nurses, the University of Chicago Hospitals pioneered nuclear medicine, discovered a treatment for lymphomas and leukemia in mustard gas, and assisted the Army in the development of chloroquine as a treatment for malaria.

Expansion and Growth

During the 1950s and '60s, the Hospitals doubled in size. Adding two cancer research centers, Wyler Children's Hospital, two research laboratories, and other state of the art facilities, the University of Chicago Hospitals multiplied from five divisions to 10, increasing the faculty by 100 percent between 1961 and 1971. Between 1963 and 1974, the staff doubled as well.

The Brain Research Pavilion, the Aeromedical Network, and the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine opened in the past several decades. The state-of-the-art, seven-story University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital opened in early 2004.

In 2006, the University of Chicago Hospitals changed its name to the University of Chicago Medical Center to better reflect the integration of science and clinical activities.

A new brand, the University of Chicago Medicine, was introduced in 2012 in anticipation of the opening of a new state-of-the-art hospital. The Center for Care and Discovery, a 10-story, 1.2-million-square-foot building welcomed its first patient in February 2013. The $700 million facility brings together the best minds in research and medicine, aided by the latest in technology.

To learn more about the history of the Hospitals, read For the Greatest Good to the Largest Number: A History of the University of Chicago, 1927-1977 by C.W. Vermeulen, MD, which can be found in the John Crerar Library.

The Hospitals circa 1930