MSD Manual

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History of the MSD Manuals

Content last modified Aug 2023

In 1899, the American drug manufacturer Merck & Co., Inc., Rahway, NJ, USA first published a small reference book for physicians and pharmacists titled The Manual of the Materia Medica. It was meant as an aid to physicians and pharmacists, reminding doctors that “Memory is treacherous.” Compact in size, easy to use, and comprehensive, The Manual (as it was later known) became a favorite of those involved in medical care and others in need of a medical reference. Even Albert Schweitzer carried a copy to Africa in 1913, and Admiral Byrd carried a copy to the South Pole in 1929. 

Over the years, each subsequent edition of the book grew in size and scope, eventually becoming one of the world's most widely used comprehensive medical resources.  By the 1980s, the book was translated into more than a dozen languages.

In 1990, we introduced The Manual of Geriatrics. This book quickly became the best-selling textbook of geriatric medicine, providing specific and comprehensive information on the care of older people. The 3rd edition was published in five languages. The Manual of Health & Aging, published in 2004, continued our commitment to education in geriatric care, providing information on aging and older people’s health issues in words understandable by the public.

In 1997, The Manual of Medical InformationHome Edition was published. In this revolutionary book, the editors translated the complex medical information in The Manual into everyday language, producing a book accessible by people who did not have a medical degree. That book was updated in 2003 to become The Second Home Edition, and in 2009 to become The Manual Home Health Handbook.

In 1999, the centennial edition (the 17th) of The Manual was published and the first digital versions of The Manuals were made available for free online. Shortly thereafter, The Manuals were released as handheld apps to take advantage of advances in technology and to better meet the information needs of readers.

Over the years, The Manuals, both professional and consumer, have been translated into 13 languages. A number of these translations have also been made available online.  Digital versions of The Manuals outside of North America are titled the MSD Manuals.

In 2014, the decision was made to move to digital-only publications. Continuously updating the content digitally allows The Manuals to keep pace with the current rapid advances in medical information. Digital publication also allows The Manuals to include all manner of multimedia and frees them from the need to fit information within the confines of bound books.