Dr. Antoine Saugrain was born in Versailles, outside Paris, in 1763. He came from a family of prominent booksellers. His sisters married well - one to Henri Didot of the Paris publishing house, the second to the artist Antoine Vernet, and the third to Joseph Ignace Guillotin, the inventor of a quick and "painless" device for executions - the guillotine. Saugrain was educated in Paris as a physician and chemist by Antoine Fourcroy and Mathurin-Jacques Brisson. He was very short in stature, and stood less than 5 feet tall. In 1783 he traveled to North America to serve as a mineralogist for Gilbert Antoine de St. Maxent at New Orleans, where he was admitted to the practice of surgery. In 1787 Dr. Saugrain traveled to the United States bearing a letter of introduction to Benjamin Franklin. He became part of a scientific expedition to explore the Ohio River led by the botanist Picque in 1788. Attacked by a party of Indians en route, Picque and another man were killed, and Saugrain was badly wounded. Dr. Saugrain returned to France, but because he was a royalist had to flee when the Revolution began in 1789.
He returned to the United States and helped found a French émigré community at Gallipolis, Ohio. It was there that he married Genevieve Rosalie Michau on March 20, 1793. Saugrain experimented with early versions of phosphorous matches and manufactured thermometers and barometers at Gallipolis.Dr. Saugrain was invited to move to St. Louis in 1797 by Spanish Lt. Gov. Zenon Trudeau, and enticed with land grants near St. Charles. He arrived in St. Louis about 1799, and was the city's only physician until after the American occupation. Saugrain prepared specimens for Meriwether Lewis to send to President Jefferson in early 1804. An old legend that he made a thermometer for the Lewis and Clark Expedition has been discredited. He was one of the small party of men who rode overland with Meriwether Lewis from St. Louis to St. Charles on May 20, 1804, to wish him well on his westward trek. Dr. Saugrain was the first physician west of the Mississippi to use the Jenner cowpox vaccine to prevent smallpox, beginning in 1809. Antoine Saugrain died on March 5, 1820 in St. Louis; his widow died in 1860.