William Beaumont (November 21, 1785 - April 25, 1853) was a surgeon in the U.S. Army who became known as the "Father of Gastric Physiology" following his research on human digestion.
Beaumont was born to Samuel and Lucretia Beaumont in Lebanon, Connecticut. In 1811 he trained to become a doctor through an apprenticeship with Dr. Truman Powell in St. Albans, Vermont. From 1812 until 1815, Beaumont served as a surgeon's mate in the army during the War of 1812. After the war ended he started a private practice in Plattsburgh, New York, but by 1819 Beaumont had rejoined the army as a surgeon. He was assigned a location at Fort Mackinac. Beaumont took a leave in 1821, and married Deborah Platt in Plattsburgh before returning to his post.
On June 6, 1822, an employee of the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island named Alexis St. Martin was accidentally shot in the stomach. Dr. Beaumont treated his wound, and expected St. Martin to die from his injuries. Despite this dire prediction, St. Martin survived with a hole in his stomach that never fully healed. Unable to continue work for the American Fur Company, he was hired as a handyman by Dr. Beaumont.
By the August of 1825, Beaumont had been relocated to Fort Niagara in New York, and Alexis St. Martin had come with him. It was at this location that Dr. Beaumont began to perform experiments on digestion using the stomach of St. Martin. Most of the experiments were conducted by tying a piece of food to a string and inserting it through the hole into St. Martin's stomach. Every few hours, Beaumont would remove the food and observe how well it had been digested. Beaumont also extracted a sample of gastric acid from St. Martin's stomach for analysis. In September, Alexis St. Martin left Dr. Beaumont and moved to Canada, leaving Beaumont to concentrate on his duties as an army surgeon.
During 1826 and 1827, Dr. Beaumont was stationed at Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1828 he was transferred to St. Louis, Missouri. While en route to St. Louis, Beaumont was ordered to stop at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin to treat malaria. He would remain in Prairie du Chien for the next five years. While there, Beaumont arranged for Alexis St. Martin to come to serve as Beaumont's handyman again. In early 1831, Dr. Beaumont conducted another set of experiments on St. Martin, ranging from the simple observation of normal digestion to the effects that temperature and even emotions have on the digestive process. In April, St. Martin again left for Canada. Beaumont left the army in 1832 and moved to Washington, D.C.
In Washington, Dr. Beaumont met St. Martin once again, and performed another set of experiments on how various foods were digested in the stomach. In 1833, Beaumont left Washington and returned to Plattsburgh, New York, where he wrote a book about his experiments on digestion titled Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion. Alexis St. Martin returned to Canada during the spring of 1833, and would never see Dr. Beaumont again.
In 1834, Beaumont returned to the army and was stationed at St. Louis. He left the service in 1839, and maintained a private practice in St. Louis until his death in 1853. His patient, Alexis St. Martin died in 1880. Several institutions are named for William Beaumont, including the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and Troy, Michigan, and the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas.