Name and location of repository
Level of description
Joseph Erlanger Oral History
- January 1964 (Creation)
0.50 Linear Feet
Name of creator
Joseph Erlanger (1874-1965) was born in San Francisco, studied at the University of California (B.S., 1895) and received his medical education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (M.D., 1899). He was an intern at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital under William Osler, 1899-1900. From 1900 to 1906, Erlanger was an assistant in physiology at Johns Hopkins under William H. Howell. He became professor of physiology at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in 1906. In 1910, he accepted an appointment as professor and head of physiology at Washington University in St. Louis. Erlanger retained this position until retirement in 1946, continuing in research at the university for several years afterward. In 1944, he and Herbert S. Gasser were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for discoveries relating to the highly differentiated functions of nerve fibres."
Erlanger's chief contributions to physiology can be divided into two distinct phases. Until 1921, he concentrated on problems relating to the cardiovascular system, developing an improved sphygmomanometer, and making important discoveries about the relation of blood pressure and the conduction of electrical impulses in the heart. The second phase of his research career began in collaboration with Gasser, a former student. The two adapted a cathode-ray oscillograph for the purpose of amplifying and recording electrical conduction, or action potentials, of the nervous system. Using this instrument, they analyzed and compared action potentials of different portions of the nervous system, determining that the speed of conduction is proportional to the diameter of the nerve fiber. Erlanger's later research built upon this key electrophysiological discovery, with studies of excitation and polarization of nerve fibers, among other investigations. Throughout his tenure at Washington University, Erlanger played an important role in the governance of the medical school through its Executive Faculty council. He also made important contributions to the American Physiological Society and other scientific organizations.
Scope and content
Interviewed by Estelle Brodman and Margaret Erlanger in 1964. Approximate Length: 1 hour and 50 minutes.
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The collection is open and accessible for research.
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Item description, Reference Code, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University in St. Louis.
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"Describing Archives: A Content Standard, Second Edition (DACS), 2013."
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