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Thimerosal and Autism Timeline

How did the idea that a mercury-based preservative (thimerosal) causes autism come to be?

This timeline is the historical account of an unbelievable, but true, story.

It's the story of parents who knew something was wrong and never gave up. The story of brave scientists who told the scientific truth. And a story of unsung heroes - the child victims whose lives were devastated and forever changed by vaccines.

To the heroes who have sacrificed so much: this timeline is to honor you with the hope that our nation will have a true understanding of your suffering.

The Toxic Relationship Between Mercury and Vaccines - what siblings of autistic children/teens have to say about it, and a very revealing interview with Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, George W. Lucier.



Summary: As the 1920s came to a close, Dr. Morris Kharasch of Eli Lilly introduced the world to a new mercury compound -- Thimerosal -- and filed a patent for the compound on June 27, 1929. Believed to have antiseptic and antibacterial components, Eli Lilly and Company went on to register Thimerosal under the trade name Merthiolate. Thimerosal/Merthiolate was first used to kill bacteria and prevent contamination in over-the-counter products and vaccines. Used by both consumers and hospitals in everything from their nasal sprays to eye drops to ointments to vaccines, Thimerosal/Merthiolate became a dangerous component of everyday life.

June 27, 1929

Eli Lilly fellow Dr. Morris Kharasch files a patent for a new mercury compound (Thimerosal). The new mercury compound, thought to have antiseptic and antibacterial properties, would first be used by Eli Lilly in vaccines and many over-the-counter products.

Burton, D. (2003). Mercury in Medicine (Congressional Report E1011–30).

October 1929

“Eli Lilly and Company registered Thimerosal under the trade name Merthiolate. Merthiolate's purported use was to kill bacteria and prevent contamination in antiseptic ointments, creams, jellies and sprays used by consumers and in hospitals. Thimerosal was also used in nasal sprays, eye drops, contact lens solutions, immunoglobulins and most importantly here – vaccines.”

(p.3) Burton, D. (2003). Mercury in Medicine (Congressional Report E1011–30).



Summary: The 1930’s served to be a lethal building decade for Thimerosal/Merthiolate. Before testing on the mercury compound began, the United States started to include Thimerosal/Merthiolate, along with toxic aluminum, in vaccines. It took until 1937 for the first animal model study to test the toxicity of thimerosal/Merthiolate to be done. The test resulted in all guinea pigs inoculated with as low as 0.1 micrograms of thimerosal/Merthiolate mixtures dying within 24 hours. Despite this outcome, Thimerosal continued to be included in over-the-counter products and many childhood vaccines would contain 50 mcg of Thimerosal (25 mcg of mercury). 


Over 70 years later, the FDA would testify before Congress that the only known Thimerosal “safety testing” on humans was documented in a 1931 published research paper, “Merthiolate as a Germicide,” by Eli Lilly scientists W.A. Jamieson and H.M. Powell. Congressional testimony here: 


Powell, H.M. & Jamieson, W.A. (1931). Merthiolate as a Germicide. Am. J. Hyg, 13, 296–310. 


Jamieson and Powell’s findings would be described over 70 years later in a Congressional Report

“During the pre-antibiotic 1920’s, meningitis was a killer. Out of sheer desperation, the treating physician at a hospital dealing with dozens of patients facing a sure death from meningitis, tested Thimerosal on about two dozen patients. He injected the Thimerosal intravenously, without apparent side effects. However, the treatment was not successful and all of the patients died. The leading industry scientists of that era involved in Thimerosal research published a paper that made a brief reference to this study: ‘‘Merthiolate was injected intravenously into 22 persons . . . these large doses did not produce any anaphylactoid or shock symptoms.’’ In the paper, the authors acknowledge that Dr. K.C. Smithburn, the clinician who treated the meningitis patients, was not convinced of its efficacy: ‘beneficial effects of the drug were not definitely proven.’ Drs. Powell and Jamieson also noted in 1930 that a ‘wide range of  toxicity and injury tests should be done.’ There is no evidence that Drs. Powell and Jamieson took their own advice and conducted studies to address these concerns.” (p. 4) 

Burton, D. (2003). Mercury in Medicine (Congressional Report E1011–30). 

The dishonest findings of the Eli Lilly scientists, Jamieson and Powell, would be explained in 2007 by D.A Geier et al.  

“First, in their article, Powell and Jamieson (1931) failed to reveal that the subjects evaluated by Smithburn and his colleagues (1930) had, in fact, had meningitis, and were not healthy, a revelation that would have called into question Powell and Jamieson’s conclusions regarding the nontoxicity of Thimerosal. It should be noted that Powell and Jamieson (1931) provided a table in which the 22 subjects injected with Thimerosal were identified. These subjects, based upon the information provided in the table, received massive doses of mercury from intravenous administration of Thimerosal. The table notes that approximately one-third of the patients were followed for only 1d after the therapy. The table failed to note, however, that most probably this follow-up period was so short because these individuals died. The table also noted only one patient was followed for 62 d. This maximum follow-up length of 62 d was far too short to accurately discern any chronic damage produced by the mercury, because mercury toxicity manifests fully only several months after exposure. The study was also flawed because any neurological and/or other damage observed was likely attributed to the meningitis rather than the Thimerosal exposure. Additionally, Powell and Jamieson (1931) specifically commented that they evaluated patients, in particular, for shock or anaphylaxis-type immediate reactions to the administration of Thimerosal. It is important to note that these outcomes are not typical of mercury toxicity in humans.  

Second, it is also apparent that Powell and Jamieson (1931) failed to emphasize their disturbing animal toxicity data. In fact, Powell and Jamieson (1931) had already determined that administration of low milligram doses of Thimerosal per kilogram body weight in several different animals was acutely toxic and resulted in significant numbers of animals dying within days of exposure.” (p. 577)


Thimerosal (mercury) containing vaccines are first used in the U.S. Another toxic metal, aluminum, is also being used in vaccines.


The very first children diagnosed with autism were born. A description of the first autism cases would later be published by child psychologist Dr. Leo Kanner. In his 1943, research paper Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact he would describe the condition as “differs so markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far.”

View a YouTube video of Dr. Leo Kanner, child psychologist who first identified children with symptoms he would describe as, “inborn autistic disturbances of affective contact.” 

  • Dr. Morris Kharasch who patent Thimerosal would also patent ethyl-mercury fungicides.

From Dan Olmstead’s 2005 UPI article, The Age of Autism: Mercury goes to work

“’Kharasch made pioneering studies on organomercurials important in agriculture (as seed disinfectants) and medicine (the antiseptic merthiolate).’

We asked Boyd Haley, a professor and former chair of the chemistry department at the University of Kentucky, to look at the early ethyl mercury fungicide and Thimerosal patents.

‘You're on to something,’ said Haley, who is controversial for his belief that mercury is behind a range of neurological disorders including autism.

‘The whole problem -- and if you read these patents, it just jumps out at you -- is that ethyl mercury was not water-soluble. You had no delivery. All Kharasch did was really very simple straightforward chemistry. He coupled ethyl mercury to an organic acid to make it water-soluble.’

Haley speculated that if ethyl-mercury-based fungicides caused some of the early cases, it might have been because the fathers got it on their clothes, sprayed it on their gardens or used it in their labs to control fungus.

‘If they ever took any home or got it on their hands, they could end up with big problems,’ Haley said…”


  • Through the book Age of Autism and a series of articles by the same authors explains the link between mercury exposure and the first autistic children. The authors describe how the first autistic children came in contact with the same ethylmercury patents developed by Dr. Morris Kharasch.


First 11 children* diagnosed with Autism

*In his 1943 research paper, Dr. Leo Kanner identified each child with an alias and case number in his research papers.



Birth Name


Case no.

August 29, 1931

Vivian Ann Murdock

Virginia S.


February 3, 1932


 Elaine C.


May 1932

David Newcomb Speck

Alfred L.


September 8, 1933

Donald Gray Triplett

Donald T.


October 30, 1933

Bridget Muncie

Barbara K.




Paul G.


May 23, 1936

Frederick Wellman

Frederick W.


November 16, 1937

John Trevett

Herbert B.


November 17, 1937

William Ritchey Miller

Richard M.


September 19, 1937

Lee Ruven Rosenberg

John F.


August 8, 1938


Charles N.



A letter by the Director of Biological Services, Pittman-Moore Company, is written to Dr. Jamieson of Eli Lilly. In the letter it states, ‘‘we have obtained marked local reaction in about 50 percent of the dogs injected with serum containing dilutions of Merthiolate varying from 1 in 40,000 to 1 in 5,000 . . . no connection between the lot of serum and the reaction. In other words, Merthiolate is unsatisfactory as a preservative for serum intended for use on dogs . . .” (p. 9)

Burton, D. (2003). Mercury in Medicine (Congressional Report E1011–30). 


The first animal-model study testing the toxicity documented, “two sets of 7 flasks each were treated with an amount of Merthiolate varying in dilution from 1 to 100 to 1 in 10 million of the medium in each series. . . The guinea-pigs inoculated with 1 of the mixtures after 24 hours all died; the first of Merthiolate poisoning” (p. 962). Cummins, S. L. (1937). Merthiolate in the treatment of tuberculosis. Lancet, 230,962–963. 



Summary: Most of the 1940s focused on Thimerosal's use in vaccines and over-the-counter products. In 1947, it was discovered that there was a direct correlation between the use of mercury-laced teething powders and the diagnosis of childhood mercury poisoning also called acrodynia or “pink disease.” Once the mercury-laced teething powder was no longer given to children, acrodynia cases declined, showing the very serious dangers of mercury. It was also proven that mercury compounds were more toxic for embryonic tissue cells and leukocytes than for bacterial cells. Despite these discoveries, the Thimerosal-containing pediatric combination vaccine, diphtheria, tetanus and whole cell pertussis (DTP) was licensed in the United States in 1947.


Mercury-laced teething powders are discovered to be the cause of acrodynia, a form of childhood mercury poisoning. Infants and children who have acrodynia will often have peeling hands and feet which look pink so the disease is also called “pink disease.” In 1947 acrodynia (or pink disease) would decline after mercury-containing teething powders are no longer given to children.

  • In 2001 it would be discovered that the childhood mercury poisoning disease acrodynia (sometimes referred to as pink disease), would also share many of the same symptoms as the childhood disorder autism. Acrodynia comparison combined.


The combination vaccine diphtheria and tetanus and whole-cell pertussis (DTP) is licensed for pediatric use in the U.S. This vaccine will contain Thimerosal.


American children are now required to show proof of only the smallpox vaccine in order to attend school. This vaccine does not contain Thimerosal.


The label on a bottle of ‘Solution Merthiolate, 1:1,000, Stainless’ purchased as recently as June 1947, states that it is ‘a stable, stainless, organic mercury compound of high germicidal value, particular in serum and other protein media.’

It is not highly germicidal and especially does not possess high germicidal value in the presence of serum and other protein mediums. The loss of antibacterial activity of mercurials in the presence of serum proves their incompatibility with serum . . . The comparative in vitro studies on Mercurochrome, Metaphen and Merthiolate on embryonic tissue cells and bacterial cells by Salle and Lazarus cannot be ignored. These investigators found that Metaphen, Merthiolate and Mercurochrome were 12, 35 and 262 times respectively more toxic for embryonic tissue cells than for Staphylococcus aureus. Nye and Welch also found the same three mercurial compounds more toxic for leukocytes than for bacterial cells. Not only is there direct toxic action of the mercurial compounds on the cellular and humoral components of the animal body, but there is also the possibility of sensitization. (p. 41)

Morton, H. E., North, L L., and Engley, F. B. 1948. The Bacteriostatic and Bactericidal Actions of Some Mercurial Compounds on Hemolytic Streptococci: In Vivo and In Vitro Studies. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 136, 37–41.


Video interview with Frank B. Engley, Ph.D.




Summary: In the 1950s, Dr. Frank Engley determined Thimerosal was significantly toxic to human tissue culture cells, further proving that Thimerosal is considerably more dangerous to healthy cells than bacteria. Overall, this discovery showed that the mercury in Thimerosal did more harm than good.


Dr. Frank Engley determines Thimerosal is significantly toxic to human tissue culture cells at 10 parts-per-billion (ppb). Engley, F. B., (1956). Mercurials as Disinfectants: Evaluation of mercurial antimicrobic action and comparative toxicity for skin tissue cells. Soap & Chemical Specialties, pgs. 199, 201, 203, 205, 223-225.

"Nobody has ever studied Thimerosal, I'm NOBODY" 
                                         – Dr. Frank Engley, 2007 



Summary: The 1960s was a decade of new research, discoveries and ideas. First, Dr. Bernard Rimland founded the Autism Research Institute and Autism Society of America. He challenged the notion that autism was caused by mothers who didn’t bond with their children and informed parents that autism is a treatable biological disorder. Rimland’s research and discovery helped many autistic children to greatly improve and recover. Secondly, it was discovered that the pertussis and Thimerosal-containing vaccines were more toxic and deadly than beneficial. 


Measles vaccine is first made available in the U.S. This vaccine does not contain Thimerosal.


Mumps vaccine is first made available in the U.S. This vaccine did not contain Thimerosal.


The Autism Research Institute is founded by Dr. Bernard Rimland, who first challenged the notion that autism was caused by mothers who did not bond with their children (a.k.a. refrigerator mothers). In the years to come, Dr. Rimland will teach parents that autism is a treatable biological disorder. Many autistic children will greatly improve and recover due Dr. Rimland’s research and encouragement. Dr. Rimland also founded the Autism Society of America in 1965.

Dr. Bernard Rimland discusses his history with Autism (1)

Dr. Bernard Rimland discusses his history with Autism (2)

Dr. Bernard Rimland discusses his history with Autism (3)

Dr. Bernard Rimland discusses his history with Autism (4)

May 1967

Researchers found, “Pertussis vaccines preserved with 0.01% Merthiolate are more toxic for mice than unpreserved vaccines prepared from the same parent concentrate and containing the same number of organisms. ...An increase in mortality was observed when Merthiolate was injected separately, before or after an unpreserved saline suspension of pertussis vaccine.” 

Nelson, E.A. & Gottshall, R.Y. (1967). Enhanced Toxicity for Mice of Pertussis Vaccines When Preserved with Merthiolate. Applied Microbiology, 15 (1967), 590-593. 


RhoGAM, made by Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Inc., is the first licensed Rho(D) immune globulin. RhoGAM contains 10.5 mcg of mercury from Thimerosal. RhoGAM will be provided to all Rh-negative pregnant women after the delivery.


Rubella vaccine is first made available in the U.S. This vaccine does not contain Thimerosal.



Summary: In the 1970s, it was discovered that the mercury in Thimerosal was able to easily penetrate intact membranes and cross the blood-brain and placenta barriers of animals. Reports showed that 10 out of 13 babies who were treated with Merthiolate antiseptic containing Thimerosal died, further proving the highly toxic nature of mercury to all. Therefore determining that Thimerosal/Merthiolate should be heavily restricted or withdrawn from hospital use.


The combination vaccine of Measles, Mumps and Rubella is made available in the US. The combination MMR vaccine does not contain Thimerosal.


Another Rho(D) immune globulin is licensed by Bayer Corporation: BayRho-D. Bayer's Rho(D) immune globulin will contain 35 mcg. of mercury from Thimerosal. It will be provided to pregnant women after the delivery.


Takahashi, et al., report, “A pronounced migration of the radioactivity into the cortices of cerebrum and cerebellum, especially in the occipital lobe, was observed in monkey 8 days after receiving 203Hg-ethylmercuric chloride.”  

This demonstrated preferential accumulation of ethylmercury in the brain (versus methylmercury). This is important as ethylmercury is produced by the break-down of Thimerosal in vivo.

Takahashi, Tadao, et al. Time-Dependent Distribution of 203Hg-Mercury Compounds in Rat and Monkey as studied by Whole Body Autoradiography. The Journal of Hygienic Chemistry 17 (2) (1971): 93-107.


Gasset, et al., report, “A comparison of topical and subcutaneous administration of Thimerosal to rabbits shows that a substantial concentration of mercury was present in blood and tissues of the treated animals and their offspring. Thimerosal was found to cross the blood-brain and placenta barriers.”

Gasset, A.R., Itoi, M., Ishii, Y. & Ramer, R.M. Teratogenicity of ophthalmic drugs. II. Teratogenicity and tissue accumulation of Thimerosal Archives of Ophthalmology, 93 (1975): 52-55.


D. G. Fagan, et al., report 10 out of 13 babies died who were treated for umbilical hernias with the antiseptic Thimerosal. The study’s authors recommend, “organic mercurial antiseptics should be heavily restricted or withdrawn from hospital use, as the fact that mercury readily penetrates intact membranes and is highly toxic seems to have been forgotten."