Silas Burroughs, the Man who Made Wellcome: American Ambition and Global Enterprise

By Julia Sheppard

The first biography of the business brain behind Burroughs Wellcome & Co.

ISBN: 9780718895983
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Silas Burroughs arrived in London from America in 1878 and proved himself an exceptional entrepreneur, taking the pharmaceutical business by storm. He was the brains and energy behind Burroughs Wellcome & Co. With his business partner Henry Wellcome he created an internationally successful firm, the legacy of which can be found in the charity the Wellcome Trust, yet few now remember him and the impact he made in his short lifetime.

A consummate salesman, Burroughs was also an astute businessman, with new ideas for marketing, advertising and manufacturing: his writings describe sales trips around the world and the people he met. He was also a visionary employer who supported the eight-hour working day, profit-sharing, and numerous social and radical political movements, including the single tax movement, free travel, Irish Home Rule and world peace. In this first biography of Burroughs, Julia Sheppard explores his American origins, his religion and marriage, and his philanthropic work, as well as re-evaluating the dramatic deterioration of his relationship with his partner Wellcome.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 344
Illustrations 35 b&w

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Trade Information LGENPOD

About the Author

Julia Sheppard FRHistS graduated in history from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and has spent her career working with military and medical archives. As Head of Research and Special Collections at the Wellcome Library, she was instrumental in the acquisition of Burroughs’s papers, and he has fascinated her ever since. Her previous publications include British Archives: A Guide to Archive Resources in the United Kingdom. She was recently Chair of the British Records Association.


List of Illustrations
Burroughs Family Tree
Foreword: Sir Jeremy Farrar
Acknowledgements and Sources


1. Father and Son
2. On the Road
3. London and S.M. Burroughs & Co.
4. Brotherly Love and Henry Wellcome
5. ‘A Little Excursion’
6. ‘A Superficial Jaunt’? India and Ceylon
7. The Antipodes
8. ‘This Lovely Opposite Sex’
9. ‘Bones of Contention’ and Brotherly Strains
10. Atlantic Crossings and Divided Lives
11. Partnership in Crisis: The High Court
12. Henry George and the Phoenix Mills Philosopher
13. Citizen of the World
14. Partnership in Peril
15. ‘Service to the Cause of People’: Philanthropy and the Livingstone Hospital
16. From London to Monte Carlo
17. Olive versus Wellcome


Appendix: Pharmacy and Change
References and Bibliography


Endorsements and Reviews

For too long, Silas Burroughs has stood in the shadows of his partner, Henry Wellcome. In this insightful and revealing book Julia Sheppard does a superb job of redressing the balance, revealing Burroughs’s childhood and education, and his increasingly difficult relationship with Wellcome. Based on extensive original research, this is a beautifully written and entertaining biography.
Stuart Anderson, Emeritus Professor of Pharmacy History, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Besides a thoroughly engaging story of the American-born entrepreneur, manuf¬acturer and advertising innovator, Julia Sheppard has also given us an important and fascinating insight into the history of the British drug industry and the making of a global pharmaceutical market. This is biography at its very best.
John Harley Warner, Avalon Professor of the History of Medicine, Yale University

Julia Sheppard has written the definitive biography of Silas Burroughs, the dynamic young American behind one of Victorian Britain’s most successful (yet fraught) business partnerships, a major forerunner of today’s Big Pharma.
Christine Macleod, Professor Emerita of History, University of Bristol

Julia Sheppard sets the record straight with an enlightening account of Silas Burroughs’s life and the importance of the part he played in the creation of an extraordinarily successful institution.
Anne Hardy, Honorary Professor, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

There’s much in this book for the business historian. For one thing, it reveals how marketing was done through feet on the ground and knocks on doors. For another, it gives insight into complex partnership dynamics.
John Orbell, Business Archivist and Business Historian

Silas Burroughs’ early death, and his bitter feud with his partner Henry Wellcome, has relegated him to a minor role in the story of their pharmaceutical empire. Julia Sheppard’s absorbing biography recovers his vital contribution to their joint enterprise, and sets it in the context of a vigorous life of commercial success, globetrotting travels and excursions into radical politics.
Mike Jay, Author and Cultural Historian

Author Julia Sheppard charts Burroughs’ early life in America, his brilliance as a scientist and his extraordinary work ethic. She also discusses how his experiences shaped his deep-rooted belief in social justice, and the relationship between Burroughs and Wellcome…Ms Sheppard’s richly detailed biography brings alive a period of massive technological and social change, and charts the career of a key figure in an industry that changed the world. It’s a fitting tribute to a person who deserves to be recognised.
Dan Carrier, in Camden New Journal, June 2022

[Sheppard’s] lively account sets Burroughs’ life story firmly in context, painting a picture of his personality, relationships, political preoccupations and social life alongside his professional trajectory. Sheppard provides detailed insights into Burroughs’ experiences in his own words, such as his journal in London and notes on his Indian contacts. Chapters focussing on Burroughs’ extensive international travel are particularly evocative. … The book’s obvious readership is pharmacy historians but as a fascinating analysis of the dynamics between Burroughs and Wellcome, it will appeal to a wider audience, presenting an intriguing biography of this lesser-known pioneer.
Briony Hudson, The British Society for the History of Medicine, published online (, December 2022