The Discovery and Early Development of Insulin

Our Context

The historical record and the subsequent literature on the discovery of insulin is voluminous. Our aim has been to present only original archival material which pertains to the early period, from the idea which led to research in Toronto in the summer of 1921 to the widespread commercial availability of insulin just five years later, and to select, describe and display this material clearly and impartially. We are fortunate to have a great many of these source documents at the University of Toronto, the papers having been acquired in the routine course of university record keeping, or as personal donations from family members of the co-discoverers such as Lady Henrietta Banting and Dr. Barbara Collip Wyatt. The provenance, scope and content of these collections are outlined in the "Descriptions" of each collection. We were also most fortunate to be able to include documents from the personal collection of Dr. Henry Best, and documents and artifacts from the Aventis (formerly Connaught) archives. The rich scientific and medical collections of the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto have also been drawn on in order to document the scientific climate and background to the Toronto work. The story we present is a very full one in both depth and range but we do not, of course, claim to be totally comprehensive and acknowledge that not every document which might contribute to our understanding of the total picture can be found here. The material on Banting and Best is necessarily more extensive than that on Collip and Macleod, who did not spend as much of their careers at the University of Toronto. We wish also to acknowledge a debt to the groundbreaking work of Canadian historian Michael Bliss, who first unearthed and made known the extent and complexity of the historical record on the subject of insulin, in his The Discovery of Insulin in 1982.

The picture presented on this site still retains its emotional force, and we have been aware from the beginning of the controversial nature which continues to surround some aspects of our story. Disputes about priority and about the Nobel Prize and the precise roles and contribution of those involved in the work in Toronto continue to be addressed in the secondary literature. The role of the team responsible for this website has been to avoid interpretation and editorializing, and to present the original source material fully and impartially. The University of Toronto Libraries aim to foster access to knowledge, and to preserve and develop specialized collections. Through our Digital Library we are now making our unique resources available and useful to those beyond our own community. Our hope is that the launch of this website in March 2003 may perhaps herald a renewed interest in the subject and a further re-evaluation of the insulin story.

The Discovery and Development of Insulin website team members:

Anne Dondertman 
Andrea Kosavic 
Sian Meikle
Noreen O'Rinn
Caitlin Tillman 
Jennifer Toews 
Karen Turko 
Marlene van Ballegooie

Digital Photography
Jim Ingram
Bogda Mickiewicz

In 2017 the Insulin Collection was migrated from ColdFusion to Islandora 7. Click here to view a web archived copy of the original site.

2017 Development Team
Kelli Babcock
Bella Ban
Gordon Belray
Chris Crebolder
Guita Lamsechi
Sunny Lee
Elizabeth Ridolfo

In 2024 the Insulin Collection was migrated from Islandora 7 to UTL's homegrown Collections U of T Platform. Click here to view a web archived copy of the original Islandora 7 site.

2024 Development Team
Kelli Babcock
Isobel Carnegie
Andy Foster
Bilal Khalid
Dickson Law
Sunny Lee
Jana Rajakumar
Jarvis Tse
Andy Wagner