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Michael Heidelberger Papers 1901-1990 (bulk 1940-1975)
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Biographical Note

Michael Heidelberger was born April 29, 1888 and died June 25, 1991. He is known as one of the founders of quantitative immunochemistry, and in the course of his career studied, bacterial polysaccharides (particularly pneumococcal), as well as the immunochemistry of proteins, antibodies, antigens and complement (see the article "Michael Heidelberger April 1888-June 25, 1991" by Elvin A. Kabat on file in the Modern Manuscripts department). The first child of David (1850-1927) and Fannie Campe Heidelberger (1855-1954), Michael Heidelberger stated that he decided to become a chemist at the age of 8. He attended the Ethical Culture high school and Columbia University. He earned his B.S. in 1908, his A.M. in 1909 and his Ph.D. in 1911. After a year of study with Richard Willstatter in Zurich, he returned to the United States and took a position at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research where he worked with Walter Jacobs. During his tenure at the Rockefeller Institute Heidelberger conducted work on the chemotherapy of African sleeping sickness and began his pioneering work on polysaccharides with Dr. Oswald T. Avery. In World War I, Heidelberger served as a 1st Lieutenant in the Sanitary Corps (1918-1919), but was not sent to Europe.

In 1927, he left the Rockefeller Institute and moved to Mt. Sinai Hospital where he was both chemist to the hospital and a researcher. From 1928 to 1956, he worked for the Columbia University Medical Center was he continued his work as both a researcher and an instructor. In 1955, Heidelberger retired from Columbia and moved to the Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University, where his research and teaching work continued. After nine years, he moved to the New York University School of Medicine, where he remained until his death. Heidelberger never really retired and was active in his field for nearly 80 years. In 1916, Heidelberger married Nina Tachau (1889-1946). They had one son, Charles (1920-1983) namesake of Heidelberger's younger brother Charles (1890-1914). Nina Tachau Heidelberger, an active member of the American Association for the United Nations and the League of Women Voters, died of cancer in 1946. In 1956, Heidelberger married Charlotte Rosen, who died in 1988.

Throughout his long and varied career, Heidelberger received fifteen honorary degrees, and 46 medals, citations, or awards. These included the Emil von Behring prize (1954), the National Medal of Science (1967), two Lasker Awards (1953 and 1978), and the Bronze Medal of the city of Paris (1964). He was also made a Fellow of the Royal Society. Twice president of the American Association of Immunologists, Heidelberger played an active role in numerous professional organizations, as well as serving as a referee for publications in immunochemistry and related fields. Heidelberger published countless articles and authored several books including An Advanced Laboratory Manual of Organic Chemistry (1923) and Lectures in Immunochemistry (1956). His lecture "The Scientist and Survival in an Atomic Era," was published in 1958.

In addition to his lifelong work in immunochemistry, Heidelberger was an avid musician (several musical compositions are located in Oversized Folder #2). He also participated in the World Health Organization and was a strong supporter of the mission of the United Nations. He often expressed a desire to foster peace and understanding among nations, and particularly disavowed the post-war build-up of nuclear weapons (see Series 2: Personal materials and correspondence addressed to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy in Series 1: Correspondence).

For further information on the Heidelberger's life and career, including a bibliography and curriculum vitae, see Series 1: Personal materials, and Series 8: Drafts and reprints of Heidelberger's writings. In addition, these references may be useful:
  • Heidelberger, Michael. "A 'Pure' Organic Chemist's Downward Path." Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 1981.
  • -----. "Reminiscences." Immunological Reviews. no. 82 (1984).
  • "A Centenary Tribute: Michael Heidelberger and the Metamorphosis of Immunologic Science." Journal of Immunology. 140(9):2861-2863, May 1, 1988.