Intended for healthcare professionals

History of The BMJ

The BMJ is one of the world's oldest general medical journals. It published its first weekly edition on 3 October 1840 as the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal before uniting with the London Journal of Medicine and publishing from January 1853 as the Associated Medical Journal.  Four years later in January 1857, this merged journal became the British Medical Journal. The title was shortened to BMJ in 1988, and then changed to The BMJ in 2014.

The first editors were P. Hennis Green, lecturer on the diseases of children at the Hunterian School of Medicine, and Robert Streeten of Worcester, a member of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association council. In their introductory editorial Green and Streeten defined their two main objectives: the advancement of the profession… and the dissemination of medical knowledge.

To the left, you can see the cover of the 1st issue of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal. That first issue was just 16 pages long and cost 7d, a price which remained until 1844. In their main article, Green and Streeten cheekily noted that their new journal had received as many advertisements as its most popular (unnamed) rival after seventeen years of existence.  We can infer that the rival in question was The Lancet, launched in 1823.

Over the decades, news of many important medical advances was broken in the pages of the journal. In 1847/48, the PMSJ carried a number of reports from pioneering anaesthetist Sir James Young Simpson urging the adoption and correct preparation and administration of undiluted chloroform for maximum benefit. Twenty years later, in 1867, The BMJ published the first of many seminal papers on antisepsis by Joseph Lister.

In October 1948, The BMJ published the first centrally randomised controlled trial (‘Streptomycin Treatment of Pulmonary Tuberculosis’--one of the authors being FRG Heaf of Heaf Test fame, which remained in use until 2005).

The journal also carried Richard Doll’s seminal papers on the causal effects of smoking on lung cancer and other causes of death in 1950 and 1954.

The BMJ has been publishing a special "Christmas Edition" since 1982. This edition is known for research articles which apply a serious academic approach to investigating less serious medical questions The results are often humorous and widely reported by the mainstream media.

The BMJ was the first major medical journal to launch a website, in 1995, and went fully online in 1998. For the first 10 years, the entire content of the journal was freely available online. Since then, the original research articles have remained freely available from the point of publication, adopting the CCBy Open Access principles in October 2014. From 2005, subscription access controls were gradually introduced for non-research articles. Since 2001 The BMJ has allowed complete free access for visitors from economically disadvantaged countries as part of the World Health Organisation’s HINARI initiative.

The BMJ’s full archive from 1840’s Volume 1, Issue 1 is available online in html or pdf format. The BMJ is now primarily an online journal, available at and through its mobile app. Print editions include a weekly magazine for UK-based doctors and a monthly Academic Edition for institutions, researchers and medical academics. In addition, a number of monthly editions of The BMJ are or have been published in English or in translation in Argentina, Greece, Romania, China and West Africa.

Reader feedback online is actively encouraged in the form of Rapid Responses which were introduced in 1998, and 20 years later, had generated 115,000 fully-moderated responses.


1840 First issue is published

1847 James Simpson reports the discovery of chloroform

1853 Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal merges with the London Journal of Medicine to become the Associated Medical Journal

1857 The Associated Medical Journal becomes the British Medical Journal

1867-79 Joseph Lister’s ‘On the antiseptic principle in the practice of surgery’ and other papers

1868- Ernest Hart’s campaign against ‘Baby Farming’, unregistered adoption and the insuring of babies’ lives

1896-7 Ronald Ross and Patrick Manson’s work on malarial parasites and the mosquito as vector for malaria

1917 BMJ publishes its first daughter journal: British Journal of Ophthalmology

1948 Published first centrally randomised controlled trial (Streptomycin Treatment of Pulmonary Tuberculosis)

1950 & 1954 Richard Doll’s papers ‘Smoking and Carcinoma of the Lung’ and ‘The Mortality of Doctors in Relation to their Smoking Habits

1948-50 BMJ published Henry Shortt’s work explaining the relapsing character of malaria

1957 BMJ stops carrying advertising for cigarettes

1962 BMJ published the first draft of the Declaration of Helsinki (published in The BMJ in 1962) from a World Medical Association committee chaired by BMJ editor Hugh Clegg

1982 The first of the now-famous Christmas issues is published

1988  British Medical Journal becomes BMJ

1993 Launch of Middle Eastern edition (in English) and of Greek edition

1994 A series of articles by Richard Smith on conflicts of interest relating to funding by alcohol interests, private healthcare providers, tobacco,

1994 Launch of Romanian edition

1995 All new issues are published fully online

1998 Launch of Chinese edition and of West African edition

1998 The BMJ is the first major general medical journal to provide free full text online access to its articles from the moment of publication, to deposit the full text in PubMed Central, and to allow authors of research articles to retain copyright.

1999 BMJ adopts open peer review, where authors know who reviewed their manuscript. All content becomes free of charge to users online.

2001 BMJ participates in launch of WHO’s HINARI scheme to widen access to academic journals in low income countries

2002 ‘Too Much Medicine?’ theme issue highlights the dangers of overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Subsequently the TMM campaign is launched in 2013 by an editorial by Ray Moynihan.

2008 Research articles (already freely available from the moment of publication) become officially Open Access

2009 Open Data campaign launched, sparked by joint BMJ/Cochrane investigation into Tamiflu’s hidden trial data 2011 MMR Investigation concludes that the 1998 Lancet paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues was “an elaborate fraud”

2011 The BMJ launches sister journal BMJ Open

2012 A BMJ investigation blows the whistle on Metal on Metal hip replacements, beginning a campaign for better regulation of medical devices

2013 Open Data: Trials of drugs and medical devices would be considered for publication only if the authors commit to making the relevant anonymised patient level data available on reasonable request.

2013 Patient Partnership launched and becomes a permanent campaigning focus of The BMJ. The BMJ questions the efficacy of statins among low CV-risk patients; which becomes a broader campaign for open data in statins research.

2014 BMJ extends open peer review to publication of all pre-publication history for research and analysis articles

2014 BMJ becomes The BMJ--and becomes first journal to be awarded the coveted ‘Patients Included’ badge

2015Open Peer Review’ launched. The BMJ requires data sharing on request for all trials

2016Rapid recommendations’ launched, making research findings clinically-actionable sooner

2017 Launch of Argentinian edition (in Spanish)

The Editors of The BMJ

P. Hennis Green and Robert Streeten (1840–1844)
• Robert Streeten (1844–1849)
• W.H. Rankin and JH Walsh (1849–1853)
• John Rose Cormack (1853–1855)
Andrew Wynter (1855–1861)
• William Orlando Markham (1861–1866)
Ernest Hart (1866–1869)
Jonathan Hutchinson (1869–1871)
Ernest Hart (1871–1898)
• Sir Dawson Williams (1898–1928)
• Norman Gerald Horner (1928–1946)
Hugh Clegg (1947–1965)
Martin Ware (1966–1975)
• Stephen Lock (1975–1991)
Richard Smith (1991–2004)
Fiona Godlee (2005–)