Hans Zinsser, M.D.

Hans Zinsser

 Brief Bio

Hans Zinsser (1878–1940) was the sixth president of the American Association of Immunologists, serving from 1919 to 1920. An internationally recognized authority on typhus and the author of Rats, Lice and History (1935), Zinsser was the Charles Wilder Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology at Harvard University Medical School from 1925 to 1940.

Zinsser earned his M.D. from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) in 1903. After serving on the house staff of Roosevelt Hospital in New York City for two years, Zinsser became resident bacteriologist at Roosevelt (1905–1906) and assistant bacteriologist at P&S (1905–1906). In 1907, he joined the staff of St. Luke’s Hospital as an assistant pathologist and, the following year, received an appointment as instructor of bacteriology at P&S. He held both positions until 1910, when he left P&S to start a bacteriology department at Stanford University. Zinsser rose from associate professor (1910–1911) to professor of bacteriology and immunology (1911–1913) at Stanford before returning to P&S in 1913 to accept an appointment as professor in bacteriology and immunology. Zinsser’s tenure at P&S was interrupted by the First World War, during which he served as a member of the Red Cross Typhus Commission to Serbia (1915) and as an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps (1917–1919). He returned to P&S after the war but left in 1923 to accept a position as professor of bacteriology and immunology at Harvard University Medical School, where, two years later, he was given the added distinction of the Charles Wilder Professorship. While at Harvard, Zinsser participated in two professor exchange programs, teaching in Paris in 1935 and at Peiping Union Medical College in Beijing in 1938. Diagnosed with lymphatic leukemia in 1938, Zinsser continued his research at Harvard for another two years before succumbing to the disease on September 4, 1940.

 AAI Service History

Joined: 1917
President: 1919–1920
Councillor: 1920–1926

The Journal of Immunology
Board of Editors: 1916–1940

 President's Message

"On the Nature of Bacterial Toxaemia," Delivered April 1, 1920

The Journal of Immunology 5 no. 3 (1920): 265–95.

 Awards and Honors

  • Distinguished Service Medal, U.S. Army, 1922
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1923
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences, 1924
  • Chevalier, Legion d’Honneur, France, 1935
  • Member, American Philosophical Society, 1937
  • Sedgwick Memorial Medal, American Public Health Association, 1940

 Institutional/Biographical Links

  • National Academy of Sciences biographical memoir
  • Hektoen International obituary
  • Hans Zinsser Papers, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard University
  • Hans Zinsser, As I Remember Him: The Biography of R.S. (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1940)