Alexander Fleming: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over the life of Alexander Fleming. You'll briefly learn what he was famous for but mainly how his life unfolded outside of his major contribution to society.

Alexander Fleming

When you get a cut on your arm, you might put some antibiotic cream on it to protect yourself. If you get pneumonia, your doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics. Antibiotics, drugs that target bacteria, have saved hundreds of millions of lives over the very recent past and they may save billions more as people get sick with bacterial diseases.

The man largely credited with discovering the first known antibiotic, penicillin, was none other than Sir Alexander Fleming, a man whose discovery led to the saving of countless people around the world. Much has been said about his work, however. This lesson focuses on his personal life and life outside of his most famous discovery instead.

Early Personal Life

Alexander Fleming was born on August 6th, 1881 near Ayrshire, Scotland. His dad, Hugh Fleming, and mom, Grace Fleming, were farmers. He was the seventh of eight siblings, although four of them were half siblings from his dad's prior marriage.

Growing up, Fleming went to various different schools, including Louden Moor School, then Darvel School, and finally to Kilmarnock Academy.

In 1895, Fleming moved in with his brother, Thomas, in London, England. Here, he attended what is now called the University of Westminster and worked in a shipping office at the same time, something he didn't enjoy one bit.

In 1900, Fleming entered into what became a 14-year stint as a private in the London Scottish Regiment of the Territorial Army. The Territorial Army was the Army Reserve at the time.

Later Personal Life

A year after this, in 1901, Fleming started studying medicine at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, part of the University of London. This was made possible thanks, in great part, to an inheritance he received from an uncle. Perhaps it should come as no great surprise to you, but he was at the top of his class and was awarded a gold medal in 1908 as a result.

So what did Fleming want to do with that genius brain of his? At first, he wanted to become a surgeon. Thankfully for all of humanity, he changed his mind and entered the field of bacteriology. During World War I, Fleming studied wound infections and their largely ineffective treatments at the time.

After World War I ended, Fleming would go on to hold numerous professional positions. For instance, in 1918, he became an assistant director at St. Mary's Inoculation Department. In 1928, he became a professor of bacteriology at the University of London. It was soon after this appointment, in September of 1928, that he discovered the first antibiotic.

Alexander Fleming at his bench
Alexander Fleming

Towards the later years of his life, Fleming became a sort of science ambassador, lecturing around the world and gaining immense fame in the process.

Fleming married twice. He first married Sarah (Sareen) Mario McElroy, who was an Irish nurse from Killala, Ireland who operated a nursing home in London. They had a son, Robert, in 1924. Robert later became a physician. McElroy passed away in 1949. Fleming re-married in 1953 to Greek microbiologist Dr. Amalia Coutsouris-Voureka.

Fleming passed away on March 11th, 1955 in London, England. The cause of death was a heart attack. He is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.


''One sometimes finds what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.

''Nature makes penicillin; I just found it.''

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