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.

Dr. Vsevolod Kudravcev demonstrated a blood flowmeter that used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). Research for the application of NMR principles for noninvasive measurement of blood flow in humans began at #NIH in 1956. We are currently processing the papers of the NHLBI Laboratory of Technical Development, where Kudravev worked, and will have much more history to share in the future. #OurHearts @NIH_NHLBI

This electrocardiogram preprocessor, built in 1970 at NIH (that’s 50 years ago now), detected and timed the heart beats in a patient’s electrocardiogram, compressing this information before feeding it to the main computer. The preprocessor worked in real-time, providing an alarm if more than four seconds elapsed between heart beats. The “Isolated Preamplifier”—the computer circuit on the desk—protected the patient from electrical shock by converting the electrical signal into a light beam, separating the patient from the grounded circuitry. Commercial equipment is now available for hospital monitoring and, in shrunken form, for implanted defibrillators. #OurHearts

Women in Science Profiles

Join in celebrating #WomenInScience. NICHD researcher Dr. Gisela Storz has never been afraid to ask questions. Her boldness and persistence have served her well, not just in scientific pursuits, but also in her quest to improve equity and diversity in the workplace. Read more about Dr. Storz and other female researchers at NICHD. #InternationalDayofWomenandGirlsInScience @nichdgov In 2019, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) launched its Women in Science series to highlight the exceptional contributions of its female researchers.

Wear red tomorrow to make a real fashion statement. Join NHLBI, The Heart Truth, and organizations around the country on National Wear Red Day, celebrated each year since 2002 on the first Friday in February, to make people aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. #WearRedDay #OurHearts #TheHeartTruth

It’s American Heart Month! We’re joining the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to spread awareness of heart disease. Because we’re the #NIH history folks, we’ll focus our social media this month on a few of the NIH’s historical contributions to heart research. Visit for information, animated gifs, and other good stuff. #OurHearts

This attractive curved staircase led to the second floor of Quarters 15D, a duplex ready 80 years ago this month for Public Health Service officers stationed at the NIH campus. It was a comfortable home for the time, with indoor plumbing, electricity, a refrigerator, and stylish built-ins like this staircase. There was even a furnace that didn’t require shoveling coal.

During World War II, the #NIH and the Navy collaborated on studies of how high altitude affects airplane pilots. A special chamber was built in Building T7, shown here, to simulate high altitude conditions. Out of the research came an oxygen supply apparatus for pilots and other items in our collection. The building was demolished in 1973.

Dr. Ida Bengtson spent the early 1920s researching botulism, including standardizing the antitoxin used to treat the often fatal disease and identifying types of the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. An outbreak of deadly cases caused by contaminated canned olives had left at least 19 people dead in the last months of 1919, and was investigated by her colleague Dr. Charles Armstrong. In 1917, Bengtson had become the first woman Ph.D. hired at the Hygienic Laboratory, precursor to #NIH.

President Jimmy Carter presented the highest honor that the U.S. awards to its scientists and engineers, the National Medal of Science, to Dr. Earl Stadtman on January 22, 1980. Stadtman was known for his studies on free radicals and their role in aging, how fatty acids are made, how the body controls the production of amino acids. Learn more about Stadtman, NHBLI’s chief of the Laboratory of Biochemistry, and his wife Thressa at our exhibit: #NIH @NIH @NIH_NHLBI

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Subscríbase hoy a #NIH Información de Salud, un boletín informativo electrónico mensual que presenta los recursos de salud de NIH en español para pacientes y familiares: #SaludEnEspañol We will use your e-mail address to deliver the requested information or to access your subscriber preferences. We have a strict privacy policy.

Nearly the same age as #NIH (133 years), this C.W.S. Instrument Co. Smoked-Drum Kymograph is about the oldest item in our collection. A scientist would cover the drum with waxed paper, discolor the paper with candle smoke, wind up the drum with a key, and record physiological data such as muscle contractions by means of a sharpened straw drawing a white line on the smoked paper. The speed of the drum was regulated mechanically. To preserve data, the paper would be shellacked. Makes you happy to have a computer, doesn’t it?

What instruments will museum curators use to explain your work to the public in 2050? How will historians of technology know how instruments were used if they can’t touch them? And if you win a Nobel Prize or a Lasker Award or a National Medal of Science, or even just the admiration and respect of your colleagues, how would your legacy be documented? Our answer: the 20 for 2020 campaign! Read more

P.S. This beautiful Bausch & Lomb refractometer helps to represent the 1930s in our collection.

A hundred years ago, more Americans were dying of cancer than in the past. A statistical review of cancer death figures in the United States for 1900 1920, was written by Dr. Joseph Schereschewsky, head of the #USPHS Special Cancer Investigations Laboratory, in cooperation with Harvard University Medical School. His report ignited increased interest in cancer research, eventually leading to the establishment of the National Cancer Institute in 1937. @theNCI

Many of us appreciate flexible work hours at #NIH. They were an innovation 40 years ago, when the NIH Record announced the implementation of flexible and compressed work schedules. In 1980, however, telework was still a dream, its development requiring affordable personal computers and fast and secure internet connections.

The parking lot outside our building this morning, just before 7 AM. A good visual metaphor for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). #NIH scientists did groundbreaking work on SAD here @nimhgov
Learn more

What does Dr. Reid Hunt have to do with Thyroid Awareness Month? Hunt demonstrated the presence of thyroid hormone in the blood in 1905, while working at the Hygienic Laboratory, precursor to #NIH. Hunt would want you to learn about thyroid tests now at NIDDK

Announcing “20 for 2020”! We’re looking for 20 scientific or medical instruments to document the NIH’s research during the first two decades of the 21st century. We want instruments that were invented at NIH, or commonly used at NIH, or used in important work at #NIH. Let us know if you have any instruments or ideas!

As we say farewell to another year tonight, let’s do it with humor. When NIH Director Harold Varmus departed @NIH in December 1999, his colleagues sent him off with jokes and fond stories. HHS Secretary Donna Shalala said, "I was expecting some incoherent, bookish type, and what I found was the consummate schmoozer. He had an infectious intellectual curiosity, abundant energy and a titanium bike. The only drawback I could find was his taste in clothes." Varmus did return to NIH, as director of @theNCI from 2010-2015.

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Wow! Two exhibits in five weeks! What will our intern do for an encore? Come see our newest case, containing patches comedic and heroic from many @NIHClinicalCntr components. Can someone tell me how many crabs are depicted? I lost count. It's on the 1st floor near the elevators to the 2nd floor cafeteria.

On December 29, 2000, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Establishment Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Watch a video about @NIBIBgov

He's back! And just installed a new display featuring coloring books at the @NIHClinicalCntr. How do coloring books reflect changing times @NIH? You can find out in the lobby near the Building 10 cafeteria on the 2nd floor. No interns were harmed in the making of this exhibit.

"This book was the record of 'sign out’ of blood from the Clinical Center Blood Bank beginning December 1953. It was a requirement that the physician taking care of the patient personally come to the Blood Bank to get the blood. Accordingly this book contains the signatures of the future Institute Directors, NIH Directors, Professors, Chairmen, and Deans of the 1970s and 1980s…. By late 1955 the 'physicians only' rule became unenforceable—the book was used until 1958." @NIHClinicalCntr

This state-of-the-art laboratory in Building 2 was ready for @NIH Division of Industrial Hygiene staff in December 1938. It featured two fume hoods, electrical panels in the wall to allow reconfiguration of equipment, built-in gas lines, and specially designed window shades. But no air conditioning.

The architecturally stunning building for the National Library of Medicine (NLM) was dedicated on December 14, 1962. NLM is the largest biomedical library in the world, providing physicians, researchers, and patients tools such as MEDLARS to PUBMED, as well as conducting its own research. And it preserves medical history from around the world, and from all times. We like that!

On December 12, 1980, the @NIH Clinical Center was renamed the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center by Congress. Magnuson served as a U.S. Representative (1937–1944) and a U.S. Senator (1944–1981) from Washington, and as a chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, he actively supported biomedical research at NIH. The Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center, together with the Mark O. Hatfield Center for Clinical Research, make up the largest hospital devoted to medical research, @NIHClinicalCntr.

A sharp-eyed thrift store shopper rescued this beautiful microscope, and discovered that it belonged to Dr. Lucy Ozarin, the Navy's first female psychiatrist, who then joined the NIMH, and volunteered at NLM at over 100 years old. Thanks to our donor, who could have had a career as a curator, it's now in our collection. Here's a shout out to Long Island!
@theNIMH @nlm_news

This evening, 25 years ago, Dr. Martin Rodbell gave his speech accepting the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for his work on the discovery of G-proteins and their role in signal transduction in cells. Part of his speech was poetry:
“Hail to our friends and colleagues,
to our families, to this hall filled with nobility,
borne on the winds of Nobelwisdom
Signal Transduction, which, in inciting whispers between cells,
lends this evening for those still awake
what surely binds us all in this most felicitous state.”

Rodbell never claimed to be a good poet. In the photo, he is addressing his @NIH colleagues at an earlier reception they gave in his honor.

C.W. Bill Young was a firm believer that a nation’s health is key to its defense. In the U.S. Congress for more than 35 years, Young (Rep.-FL) served as Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, the Subcommittee on Defense, and the Health Appropriations Subcommittee. On December 8, 2004, Congress renamed Building 33 on the @NIH campus the “C.W. Bill Young Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases.” Eighteen months later, Young joined NIH Director Elias Zerhouni and NIAID Director Anthony Fauci next to his commemorative plaque.

Seventy years ago, the National Cancer Institute announced it had won a silver medal at the 10th International Exhibit of Cinematographic Art in Venice, Italy. Their film, "Cancer: The Problem of Early Diagnosis," was produced jointly with the American Cancer Society. The film was meant for doctors and opens with a dramatic recreation of Dr. Theodor Billroth performing the first successful surgery for stomach cancer in 1881. It then presents the symptoms, examinations, and effective treatments for breast, cervix, stomach, rectum, and lung cancers, circa 1949. You can watch the entire film but be warned: It may turn your stomach with scenes of actual surgery.

A different set of drawings by neuroscience founder Santiago Ramón y Cajal was installed in our exhibit in Building 35 yesterday. Come and take a look! Thanks to @NINDSdirector for supporting this beautiful, and educational, exhibit.

There’s no wonder why December is Safe Toys and Celebrations Month. May we suggest some scientific toys might be order? Something like this lovely Crescent Monocular Microscope in our museum collection? Only newer.

Are you cooking dinner this Thanksgiving and wishing for a bigger kitchen? If you lived in 1939, and just moved into the new Public Health Officer quarters on the #NIH campus, you’d think this kitchen was pretty great! It had running water, electricity, and even a refrigerator (one would go where the space is in the photo). There was also an indoor bathroom for all of those relatives to use. Not until well into the 1950s did most American homes have all of those conveniences. So that’s something to be thankful for today.

Have a golden Thanksgiving, especially all those @NIH staff who are remaining on the job to take care of people, animals, and experiments!

Twenty years ago the #NIH Clinical Center Blood Bank introduced “double red” blood cell donating, which meant that the donor gave twice as many red cells, but kept more plasma and platelets while saline solution restored the lost volume. The procedure took twice as long too, prompting many joking questions from donors, such as, “Does this mean I get a coupon for a return visit to the donor snackbar in a month? After all, I donated two units of red cells but I got only one set of cookies!" @NIHClinicalCntr

An advanced design supercomputer and new names for four #NIH buildings were provided on Nov. 21, 1989 by an act with a very long title. The buildings were named for Congressional representatives and senators important to NIH appropriations. Building 45 was named for Rep. William H. Natcher (D-KY), Building 49 was named for Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-MA), Building 16 was named for Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-FL), and Building 36 was named for Rep. and Sen. Lowell P. Weicker (R-CT). In 2015, Building 36 was torn down for new construction, so Building 4 was renamed for Weicker.

Just in case you want to know, the act’s name was the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1990.

CTSA Program Rural Health Efforts

It’s National #RuralHealthDay! One out of every five Americans lives in a rural area, and many face difficulties accessing health care. The’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program is working to reduce rural health disparities through collaboration and outreach. Learn more:

The Health Research Extension Act of November 20, 1985, had so many provisions relating to #NIH that we can’t list them all here. That’s why we’re using a photo of Congress. Included was the establishment of NIAMS, NIDDK, and the National Center for Nursing Research. The NIH and NCI directors both became Presidential appointees, and animal use and care, spinal cord injury research, aging research, and learning disabilities were also some of the topics included. Find out for yourself

Today’s the Great American Smokeout — time to stop smoking. Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world, and causes about 480,000 deaths every year. This pin promoted the #NIH change in smoking policy in 1987, which banned smoking in all buildings. You can also be happy to be smoke free

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