Office of NIH History

The Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum tells the stories of the 27 institutes and centers of the National Institutes of Health.

Mission: The Office of NIH History was established by the Director, NIH as an official activity of the agency with authority to receive donated artifacts, documents, and other historical materials, and to conduct historical research and education. Budgetary and operational responsibilities for the Office of NIH History have been delegated to the NIH Office of Intramural Research. The Office of NIH History works with all NIH components to document, preserve, and interpret the history of the National Institutes of Health. The Office has two components, the NIH Stetten Museum and the Historical Research Unit.

Did you know NIGMS has a new webpage where you can access free, SEPA-funded teaching resources? Check out the apps, videos, curricula, and more that educators nationwide can use to engage young people in science and motivate them toward science career paths:

It’s National Safety Month! Time to pull out our collection of cartoons created by Linda Brown, of the #NIH Medical Arts Branch, in 1976. Her posters reminded people of safe laboratory and work practices such as: don’t eat in the lab and never mouth pipette. Rules to live by.
Now you can learn about lab safety online #NationalSafetyMonth

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) is finally hitting middle age itself! Public Law 93-296, signed 45 years ago today by President Richard Nixon, authorized the NIA to conduct and support biomedical, social, and behavioral research and training related to the aging process and the diseases and other special problems and needs of the aged. Learn all about the NIA @NIH and how you can age healthfully

Annual Report to the Nation 2019

The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer was released today. It is a collaborative effort between National Cancer Institute, CDC, American Cancer Society, and NAACCR, Inc. Findings show that overall cancer death rates continue to decrease in men, women, and children for all major racial and ethnic groups.

This lead brick is seriously heavy for its size. It originally helped to line the walls of X-ray and radiology laboratories in Building 6, the first building of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Eighty years ago (1939), NCI scientists began working in the building even before it was totally completed, which frustrated the workmen a bit. This brick was saved before renovations to Building 6 in 2003. @theNCI #NIH @IRPatNIH

Happy birthday, NIH! One of the most important events in NIH history happened on May 26, 1930: the Ransdell Act was signed, creating the National Institute of Health. #NIH was singular then, springing out of the Hygienic Laboratory of the Public Health Service. Louisiana Senator Joseph E. Ransdell, pictured here, worked tirelessly to get the bill passed. This legislation marked a change in the attitude of the U.S. scientific community toward public funding of medical research. You can become an expert on Ransdell by reading “Inventing the NIH” by Dr. Victoria Harden #NIH @NIH @IRPatNIH

Mary Lasker proudly displayed Public Law 98-297, which designated Building 60 and surrounding land as the Mary Woodard Lasker Center for Health Research and Education, 35 years ago today. Lasker forcefully and effectively advocated for medical research, resulting the creation of several NIH institutes, and transforming #NIH and medical research in the U.S. Building 60 once housed the Sisters of the Visitation of Washington and is still referred to as "the Cloisters". The Lasker Center now is home to students participating in a year-long resident research program called the Medical Research Scholars Program, and to our offices. We think it’s the most beautiful building on campus. For more info

Sometimes we forget that old technology was once new. Varian Associates published a booklet in 1959 to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of high resolution NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance). It included the first 60 protein spectra done with NMR, and chronicled how improvements in the technology produced better images and more information. This particular image shows how the spectra and interpretation of #21 in the series, linoleic acid, compares with the first three done with a magnetic flux stabilizer added. This booklet, and a Varian NMR, are both in our collection. #NIH

The NIH Record, which is still the second best thing about payday, celebrates the 70th anniversary of its first issue today. What was happening at NIH 70 years ago? Malaria research and human resources were important topics. But perhaps the biggest news was something not overtly stated: The NIH Softball Association’s announcement that it was open to everyone signaled the end of segregated ball teams at NIH. #NIH @IRPatNIH @NIH Read the first issue

Two important women are represented by this plaque: Dr. Alice Evans and Dr. Ruth Kirschstein. Evans, whose face is pictured on the plaque, joined the NIH in 1918, after the first of her many discoveries of bacteriological diseases carried by milk. She became the first woman president of the Society of American Bacteriologists, later the American Society for Microbiology. Ruth Kirschstein was known for her scientific work on the polio vaccine, and her work as director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and as acting director of #NIH on two occasions. For more on Evans and Kirschstein

This beautiful manometer with handwritten scales is 100 years old. It belonged to Dr. Claude Hudson, who we met in our last post posing with his NIH Division of Chemistry, and is now in our collection. Hudson was a renowned specialist on carbohydrate chemistry before he came to NIH, formulating the "lactone rule" about carbohydrate molecules’ shapes. Although much of Hudson’s research was highly theoretical, its fundamental nature and importance had a significant impact on the understanding of carbohydrate chemistry. For more about Hudson

National Women's Health Week

We're going to journey to Healthy Snack Hollow in our office. What will you do for National Women's Health Week, May 12 - 18?

This cheerful group of people posing on the steps of the NIH administration building 80 years ago worked in the #NIH Division of Chemistry. They were getting ready to move from their labs at 25th and E Streets, NW in Washington, DC, to their new building on the current Bethesda campus in 1939. Dr. Claude Hudson, in the middle of the front row, was a founder of carbohydrate chemistry and the Division director; many of his staff went on to greater glory, such as Floyd Daft, who became director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases. The Division included four women Ph.D. chemists. Learn more about their work on page 54 and 74

Front row: Dr. W. Dayton MacLay, Dr. Ernest L. Jackson, Dr. Elias Elvove, Dr. Claude S. Hudson, Dr. Raymond M. Hann, Dr. Havelock F. Fraser, and Dr. Nelson K. Richtmyer. Middle row: Mr. Samuel Dove, Dr. Alice T. Merill, Dr. Allene Jeanes, Dr. Evelyn B. Tilden, Dr. Mildred Adams, Miss Edna M. Montgomery, Dr. Willard T. Haskins, and Mr. Harry W. Diehl. Back row: Mr. Richard Maggenti, Dr. William S. McClenaham, Dr. Frank J. McClure, Mr. Charles G. Remsburg, Mr. Thomas Collins, Dr. Floyd S. Daft, Mr. John T. Sipes, and Dr. Albert E. Knauf. @NIH_NIAMS @IRP_NIH

All of Us Research

One year ago TODAY, #NIH's @AllofUsResearch launched to all of you! Tune in at 10 a.m. ET for a special Facebook Live session with NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, All of Us Director Eric Dishman, partners, and other special guests to hear the program's vision, milestones, and hopes for the future of #health: #JoinAllofUs

All of Us Research turns 1 on May 6! Join us on Facebook Live at 10 a.m. ET for an important conversation about how the research program is helping change the future of health for all of us. #JoinAllofUs #NIH

May is Hepatitis Awareness month --- and were you aware that the NIH has a long history of identifying hepatitis strains and developing vaccines for them? These vials of hepatitis A vaccine represent the work of Drs. Robert Purcell and John Gerin, #NIAID, shown discussing the process in the second photo. Learn more about Hepatitis Awareness Month at . And read about the NIH’s involvement at
#HepAware19 @IRP_NIH

Chilly rain didn’t dampen the celebration of naming Building 31 for Claude Denson Pepper 35 years ago today. Because of the rain, NIH Director James Wyngaarden and Senator Ted Kennedy tugged a red cord from the event tent to unveil the new plaque above the cornerstone, admiring it together later. Pepper, a Democratic congressman from Florida, authored six separate laws creating individual institutes at #NIH. As Pepper explained at a hearing on Public Law 393, which created the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “we are dealing with nothing less than the mystery of human life and the unfolding scroll of knowledge, seeking to penetrate that mystery, which is life itself.'' Pepper’s fierce devotion to the health of the American public, particularly older and poorer citizens, was rewarded with Public Law 100-436, which changed the name of Building 31 on @NIH campus on May 1, 1984.

Quote from Congressional Record Volume 159, Number 151 (Monday, October 28, 2013), Senate,
Page S7571.

“According to his wife, when asked what his greatest achievement had been, he would say, ‘I survived the war.’ If asked what his greatest contribution to medicine was, he would proudly say, ‘ECMO’ (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).” But those achievements barely scratch the surface of Dr. Theodor Kolobow’s career and his quest to take the best care of critically ill patients. We’ve only shared a few examples of his inventions, and we can’t show you the impact that he made on the students going through his lab who have become leaders in medicine around the world --- over 50 from Italy alone --- or the millions of people that his work has aided. But you can read more about his extraordinary life at

Quote from “’Treating Lungs’- The Scientific Contributions of Dr. Theodor Kolobow,” John M. Trahanas, Mary Anne Kolobow, Mark A. Hardy, Lorenzo Berra, Warren M. Zapol, and Robert H. Bartlett, ASAIO Journal, 2016 Mar-Apr; 62(2): 203–210. @NIH_NHLBI #NIH @IRPatNIH

Objective: To design and fabricate crush-proof tracheal tubes for newborn infants with the lowest resistance, least dead space, and thinnest wall. The team: An experienced inventor (Dr. Theodor Kolobow), his post-docs (Lorenzo Berra and Lorenzo DeMarchi), and Dr. Hany Ali from George Washington University Hospital. The design: flat nickel titanium shape-memory alloy (Nitinol) tubes, one for breathing in and one for breathing out, attached to a Y-connector. The result: Dead air space is decreased so the patient doesn't rebreathe air, and more area allows more air in and out. This work was published in 2004. @NIH_NHLBI #NIH @IRPatNIH

Taking over the work of the heart --- oxygenating blood --- so that people with lung or heart damage can recover was Dr. Theodor Kolobow’s long-term goal. In the late 1960s, he and Dr. Warren Zapol developed an artificial placenta which kept fetal lambs alive. The system required inventing devices that wouldn’t damage blood as it was pumped. Their method was then tested on human infants in acute respiratory distress, showing it was possible to support patients in acute respiratory failure too. In 1974, they treated an 11-year old boy who was able to participate in athletics at school just four months after recovering from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Previously, it was thought that the lungs could not recover from ARDS. All of this work helped lead to the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) used today, in which the machine replaces the function of the heart and lung for long periods of time and with less damage than the heart-lung machine. @NIH_NHLBI #NIH @IRPatNIH

I sat down with Dr. Theodor Kolobow and he asked me to breathe through a standard endotracheal tube used with ventilators. It was difficult. Then he handed me something he was working on: an ultra-thin walled tube. That worked much better. Kolobow was always attempting to find the best way to help patients on ventilators by not harming their lungs or airways, or exposing them to the unnecessary risk of ventilator-acquired pneumonia. With his stream of post-docs, Kolobow developed cuffed tubes, gilled tubes, mucus slurping tubes, and mucus shaving tubes, along with the ultra-thin walled nitinol tubes. Many of his designs are now in common use; some are still being accepted by the medical community. @NIH_NHLBI @IRPatNIH

Being a hands-on person, Dr. Theodor Kolobow pursued his own ideas to help diseased hearts. He and Dr. Robert Bowman created a rubber envelope that fit around the heart, which then was placed in a rigid Lexan shell so that it couldn’t expand too wide. Suction was used to make the heart “beat.” The system worked for up to an hour in animal experiments. They also developed this left-ventricle assist device (LVAD), a battery-powered mechanical pump to help when the heart’s left chamber of the heart doesn’t work. This was the more successful design; sometimes the LVAD could be used until a heart transplant donor was found. @NIH_NHLBI #NIH @IRPatNIH

Dr. Theodor Kolobow became responsible for more than his own research when he became the chief of the Pulmonary and Cardiac Assist Devices Section #NHLBI in 1970 --- he added the duty of contract supervision in the NIH Artificial Heart Program. NIH researchers, universities, and private industry all co-operated to create devices to help diseased hearts. This Army Pulsatile Pump from Kolobow’s collection was developed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and the Harry Diamond Laboratories. It propelled blood through a heart/lung machine with less trauma to the blood than a normal pump and oxygenator; the U.S. Army used it during the Vietnam war. @NIH_NHLBI #NIH @IRPatNIH

The NIH was a hotbed of experimental heart surgery in the 1960s. Dr. Theodor Kolobow contributed by working on how to make operating on the heart easier. The heart-lung machine oxygenated and circulated blood around the heart, enabling surgeons to operate on a stopped heart. But the heart-lung machine was huge and difficult to clean. So, while looking for the best way to oxygenate blood, Kolobow developed the small, disposable heart-lung device described in this 1964 NIH Record article. While this invention did not replace the heart-lung machine, it did inform Kolobow’s pioneering work on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). More on that later. @NIH_NHLBI #NIH @IRPatNIH

Required to do research as a medical student at Case Western Reserve University, Theodor Kolobow chose to work with Dr. George H.A. Clowes, a surgeon looking for ways to keep blood oxygenated during heart surgery. Kolobow, who loved to build things, developed a test to see which plastic membranes were the best at exchanging oxygen in the blood. He then coiled the membrane around a spindle, increasing the surface area of the membrane while decreasing the size of the device. He used suction to pull the blood through. Clowes included Kolobow’s name on the paper introducing the device to the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs in 1955. Now Kolobow’s invention, called a membrane oxygenator, is used in most ventilators.

After getting his M.D. in 1958, and completing his training at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital in 1962, Kolobow joined the U.S. Public Health Service, where he bumped into Dr. Robert Bowman. Bowman was an inventor himself, and offered Kolobow a position in the Laboratory of Technical Development at the National Heart Institute (now the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute @NIH_NHLBI). There Kolobow would continue a life-long quest to perfect the gentle treatment of injured lungs --- and branch out to include hearts too.

The first photo explains how the membrane oxygenator works. The second photo is a huge machine that Kolobow constructed in the basement of Building 1 to make ultra-thin membranes without holes. Dr. Kolobow is in the foreground. They had to do the work at night, because the smell bothered everyone else in the building. @NIH_NHLBI #NIH @IRPatNIH

Who needs to go downtown to see the cherry blossoms when you can just walk across the NIH campus? Even in the artificial light at dawn they are beautiful.

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1 Cloister Court, NIH
Bethesda, MD

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