«NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOLUME XXIV TKNTH MKMOIR BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR OF HANS ZINSSER ...»
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
VOLUME XXIV TKNTH MKMOIR
SIMEON BURT WOLBACHPRESENTED TO T H E ACADEMY AT T H E ANNUAL MKETIXfi. 1947
BY SIMEON HURT WOLBACIIHans Zinsser was a compound of many talents, productive in science, education, literature, and poetry, and apparent in music, art, and sports. He had, moreover, an unusual capacity for making close and lasting friendships, a capacity arising no doubt from his own warm quality of friendliness and his generosity, tolerance, compassion, sense of fair play and courage. In any walk of life his alert, agile and able mind and splendid physique would have distinguished him. He was exceptionally fortunate in early educational advantages and home life, all quite different from those of,most American-born scientists.
Outline of Dr. Ziiisscr's Life Dr. Zinsser was born in New York City on November 17, 1878, into a German family of affluence and culture. On both sides his forebears were freedom-loving', independently thinking people. His father, August Zinsser, a manufacturing- chemist, came from the Rhineland ; his mother, Marie Theresa (Schmidt) from the Black Forest region which "had long been under the influence of French thought and political doctrine."
Dr. Zinsser was eight years younger than the next of three older brothers and because of this gap the attention and care he received was much like that given to an only child. The early environment provided him by highly educated and cultured parents who were devoted to each other was ideal. A country home in Westchester County, New York, gave out-of-doors pursuits and contact with domestic animals. Horses for driving and riding were at hand and he very soon acquired proficiency in horsemanship and a love of horses which lasted throughout his life. In later years he was a skilful and fearless rider to hounds. His early education, which included study of the violin and piano, was received at home from tutors and an uncle who was a physician and a musician as well. While an infant he
NATIONAL ACADEMY BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOL. XXIVmade his first trip abroad and travel in Europe was a yearly event until he was twenty years of age. On many of these excursions he was under the guidance of his cultured uncle and thus was thoroughly and tutorially exposed to the best in European art galleries and concert halls. Two early years were spent in school at Wiesbaden where this uncle lived. In Germany, France and Italy he also lived and travelled with his parents. At home, up to the age of ten, only German was spoken. At this age his first formal schooling began. The school, a private one in New York City, run by |ulius Sachs, was highly esteemed by educated Germans. His training here was almost wholly in the liberal arts. At the age of seventeen (1895) n e entered Columbia, imbued with a desire for the study of literature and for a career as a writer. At that time the elementary courses were given by the heads of the departments, so that he came into close contact with Professor George Edward Woodberry of the Department of Comparative Literature, from whom he acquired, through inspiration and criticism, invaluable facility and standards in composition of poetry and prose. In his junior year he took courses in biology under Edmund B. Wilson and Bashford Dean.
Up to this time the world of Hans Zinsser had been pretty much a world of things and thoughts created by the minds of men. He had been trained in the appraisal and appreciation of literary and artistic standards and opinions, sifted and accepted by the best intellects. Now, suddenly, a new world was exposed to him by Wilson and Dean whom he regarded as the ablest teachers he ever had. While not losing his literary aspirations, the biological sciences became his greatest interest.
Ideas and convictions absorbed in earlier conversations with his agnostic father may well have fixed in him a naturalistic attitude which may in part account for this deviation of interests.
Later he turned from general biology to medicine, a natural transition because Hans Zinsser was a practical-minded person who throughout his life aspired to useful results from his research.
The Spanish War led to his enlistment, during his third HANS ZINSSER—WOLBACH year in college, in a cavalry unit (Squadron A) composed mostly of college men. After two years in this unit he got himself transferred to what he thought "was the toughest outfit in New York" and achieved thorough and revealing contacts with such American youth—offspring of many nationalities—as were mainly the product of city environment. He acknowledged the value of this experience in preparation for later adventures.
At the end of his third year in college, three months spent on a paleontological expedition for Professor Oshorn in the Southwest added to his scientific knowledge, gave him time for a thorough study of the Bible, and perhaps of greatest importance, added to his self-reliance because of the hardships and the variety of acquaintances incidental to a trip of this sort. It is a good guess that by this time his very carefully nurtured early education was well counterbalanced, and that his interest in people had spread to all levels.
During a college vacation when he was twenty, he took a walking trip through France and, according to Mrs. Zinsser, "his ardent admiration for things French and for France herself date from that time." He look no part in college athletics.
] fe learned to fence in France when very young and fencing continued to be, with riding, one of his favorite exercises throughout his life.
Thus, when he began the study of medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in the fall of 1899, he was proficient in German and French languages, thoroughly self-reliant and enthusiastic, probably more European than American in his point of view, yet possessed beyond most youths of attributes regarded as American—independence of thought, competency with horses and firearms, and in dealing with persons of all social levels.
While in the Medical School he completed his thesis for the M.A. degree on the earlv embrvology of the mouse, and did extra work in bacteriology. His first scientific publication appeared in 1903, the year he received the degrees of M.A.
and M.D. The years 1903 to 1905 were spent interning at the Roosevelt Hospital, after which he made a half-hearted
NATIONAL ACADEMY BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOL. XXIVventure in the practice of medicine while remaining connected with the Roosevelt Hospital as Bacteriologist, and with Columbia University as Assistant in Bacteriology. In June 1905 he married Ruby Handforth Kunz of New York.
When in 1908 he received a full-time appointment at Columbia as Instructor in Bacteriology, he abandoned the practice of medicine with alacrity. This period in bacteriology at Columbia was a busy one. From 1907 to 1910 he was Assistant Pathologist at St. Luke's Hospital, New York. He was active in research, alone and in collaboration with Dr.
Philip Hanson Hiss. With Dr. Hiss he also published the celebrated "Textbook of Bacteriology" now in its eighth edition.
]\Iost of the actual writing of this book was delegated to Dr.
Zinsser because of his relish and facility for the task.
In 1910 he went to Leland Stanford University as Associate Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology. In 1911 he was appointed to the full professorship, which he held until 1913 when he was recalled to Columbia University as Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology.
A. W. Meyer, Professor of Anatomy Emeritus, has written a brief and entertaining account of "Zinsser at Stanford."
From this source and from Mrs. Zinsser we learn that the years 19:10-1913 at Palo Alto were very happy ones and, of course, very busy ones. After his arrival a laboratory was rapidly equipped for him in a building belonging to the Department of Anatomy. Some of his equipment was improvised and Mrs. Zinsser relates that she and Dr. Zinsser made many expeditions at night by horse and buggy when he was disturbed about the reliability of the bacteriological incubator. Dr. Zinsser himself helped build an animal house and an enclosure for goats, sheep and horses, animals necessary for his immunological research. Classes were small but composed of able students who gave gratifying response to Dr. Zinsser's enthusiastic and stimulating lectures. Professor Meyer describes him in 1910 as "... very youthful in appearance and the father of an engaging daughter of about two. He was slight of stature with light blond hair and scarcely evident eyelashes and eyebrows, frank
HANS ZINSSER WOLBACHand exceptionally energetic and alert. His reactions not only were immediate, but sometimes surprising. Though full of life and mercurial in temperament, when serious he looks somewhat troubled. It soon became evident that President Jordan had surmised correctly that he was a 'live wire' and that he 'probably would go farther' than some others considered for the position."
At Stanford Dr. Zinsser made many friends. He left them and his horses with regret when he took his family, his foils, and his violin back to New York. In his autobiography "As I Remember Him" he refers affectionately to "happy Stanford" and to his beloved friend, President Jordan.
Now followed ten productive years from 1913 to T923 as Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology at Columbia University. During this decade he took part in the first World War as a member of the Red Cross Typhus Commission to Serbia in 1915 and in 1917-1919 as an officer in the Medical Corps of the United States Army. The Serbian expedition was scientifically unsuccessful but it brought Dr. Zinsser into close contact with "mass misery" and he characterized the typhus epidemic there as "as terrifying and tragic an episode as has occurred since the Middle Ages." Eight years later, in T923, in Russia on a Sanitary Commission for the League of Red Cross Societies, he again encountered epidemic typhus. From these experiences he received the inspiration and material for his book "Rats, Lice and History" published in 1935. and out of them an objective which led him to concentrate on immunological research on typhus during the last ten years of his life.
His war record was distinguished. He was commissioned Major in 1917 and Colonel in 1918. He was with the A.E.F.
in France for two years as Sanitary Inspector of the First Corps, and later of the Second Field Army. For a period he was Assistant Director of the Division of Laboratories and Infectious Diseases. Bayne-Jones has written: "The thoroughness of his inspection under conditions of danger and discomfort and his lashing condemnation of breaches of sanitary regulations are vividly remembered by all who saw him in action. With his usual comprehension he grasped the breadth of the problems
NATIONAL ACADEMY BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOL. XXIVof military sanitation, understanding their relationship to the hygiene of the individual and to general public health. The orders issued on his recommendation in the Second Army became a treatise, published in IQTQ, entitled 'The Sanitation of a Field
Army.' " After the war he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. In the accompanying citation arc these statements:
''For exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services. While acting as Sanitation Inspector of the Second Army he organized, perfected and administered with extraordinary and exceptional success a plan of military sanitation and epidemic-disease control." Interest in military sanitation persisted and his last publication, which appeared in 1940 just before his death, was "On the Medical Control of Mobilization." In this paper he advocated procedures which he believed would prevent the occurrence of disastrous epidemics.
At Columbia, as always, his research was chiefly in the field of immunology. The years 1914-1916 were largely given to the study of the Treponcma palliduin by cultural methods and to problems of immunity to syphilis in animals.
The first edition of his textbook on immunity, now in its fifth edition, was published in 1914 with the title "Infection and Resistance." "A Laboratory Course in Serum Study" was published in 1916.
In 1923, at the age of 45, he came to Harvard University Medical School as Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology, and in 1925, on the retirement of Dr. Rosenau, received an added distinction at Harvard by having the Charles Wilder Professorship transferred to him.
At Harvard Dr. Zinsscr flourished to his full capabilities.
He became a University figure because his diverse interests and many talents brought him into contact with the outstanding intellects in many departments and all branches of biology, philosophy, social science, and education. He was a rapid and omnivorous reader. He acquired a reputation for his judgment of literature and, in Cambridge discussions, for his stimulating comments "in a bewildering variety of subjects." His first appearance as a speaker on non-technical subjects was his delivery