The story goes that Alexander Fleming working alone and without any formal financial backing just came across a petri dish in which a bread mold had inhibited a bacterium. He yelled “Eureka” and saved millions — while whistling “Rule Britannia”.
Howard Florey an Australian scientist set out to find some means of controlling infection. He was an establishment scientist and he headed a large research team. One of his researchers in his exhaustive document review came across Fleming’s forgotten paper.
Fleming to his credit had made an observation and had written it up. He did no more until Florey’s team, looking for odd observations thought that observation might be worth pursuing. There were many others that went nowhere.
All the refining and development of penicillin was done by Florey and his team. Fleming wasn’t involved. Fleming was like a lottery winner who was just going about his business when fame and fortune came to call.
Wikipedia lists at least a dozen medical researchers who had stumbled onto penicillin previous to Fleming. The anti-bacterial properties of mold had been known since the ancients.
Florey and his big state of the art medical research establishment created penicillin as a practical drug. Fleming should have been no more than a footnote.
The Australians claim Churchill needed an authentic British hero and so they invented a bigger role for Fleming, the lonely isolated British genius.
In any case it was big medicine and big science that actually succeeded. That was true then and it’s still true today.
(Hat tip to our Slovenian guest.)