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Hans Zinsser

Born: 17-Nov-1878
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 4-Sep-1940
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Cancer - Leukemia
Remains: Buried, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Gender: Male
Religion: Agnostic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist, Doctor, Author

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Typhus vaccine

Military service: US Army (Cavalry, Spanish-American War); US Army Medical Corps (WWII)

American immunologist Hans Zinsser isolated the bacteria that carries the European variety of typhus, then developed the first anti-typhus vaccine in 1933. The following year he wrote his best-known book, Rats, Lice, and History, which he described as "a biography of typhus", ranking it as humanity's all-time deadliest disease. In his many years of research into typhus epidemics, he traveled to China, Mexico, Serbia, and the Soviet Union, and at one point contracted typhus himself, but recovered.

Throughout his career he was know for writing scientific papers which, while always technically accurate, often included humorous asides. He wrote frequently for Atlantic Monthly, played the fiddle, and made frequent visits to his friend and fellow typhus expert Charles Nicolle in Algiers. Nobel Prizewinning polio researcher John F. Enders was an English major until he sat in on one of Dr. Zinsser's lectures, and promptly switched his studies to science.

Zinsser died of leukemia in 1940, after learning of his condition by examining his own lymphocytes under a microscope. Realizing he had only months to live, he quickly wrote his autobiography -- in the third person as a thinly-cloaked and humorous novel, As I Remember Him: The Biography of R.S.. The initials, which Zinsser used to sign his poetry and some of his non-scientific writings, were long rumored to stand for "romantic soul", but near death he told a friend that R.S. was Rudolph Schmidt, a German scientist whose book, Pain: Its Causation and Diagnostic Significance in Internal Disease, was first translated into English by Zinsser in 1908.

Father: August Zinsser (owned Zinsser Co., shellac manufacturer)
Mother: Marie Theresa Schmidt (d. 1916)
Brother: August Zinsser, Jr. (banker)
Brother: Frederick Zinsser (Zinsser Co. executive)
Wife: Ruby Handforth Kunz (painter-sculptor, b. 1880, m. 1905, d. 1976)
Son: Hans Zinsser, Jr. (physician, d. 1974)

    High School: Franklin School, New York City (1895)
    University: BA, Columbia University (1899)
    University: MA, Columbia University (1903)
    Medical School: MD, Columbia University (1903)
    Teacher: Bacteriology, Columbia University (1905-07)
    Teacher: Bacteriology and Immunology, Stanford University (1910-11)
    Professor: Bacteriology and Immunology, Stanford University (1911-13)
    Professor: Bacteriology and Immunology, Columbia University (1913-23)
    Professor: Bacteriology and Immunology, Harvard University (1923-40)
    Professor: Bacteriology, Beijing University (1938-39)

    Distinguished Service Medal
    French Legion of Honor
    Roosevelt Hospital of New York (1903-05)
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Association of Immunologists President (1919)
    American Philosophical Society
    American Red Cross Sanitary Commission
    Association of American Physicians
    Massachusetts General Hospital Trustee
    National Academy of Sciences
    Society of American Bacteriologists President (1926)
    French Ancestry (maternal)
    German Ancestry (paternal)

Author of books:
Textbook of Bacteriology (1910, with Philip Hanson Hiss)
A Laboratory Course in Serum Study (1914)
Infection and Resistance (1914)
The Sanitation of A Field Army (1919)
Medicine and the Community (1924)
In Defense of Scholarship (1929)
Rats, Lice, and History: A Chronicle of Pestilence and Plagues (1935)
Immunity: Principles and Application in Medicine and Public Health (1939)
As I Remember Him: The Biography of R.S. (1940, novel/memoir)
Spring, Summer, & Autumn (1942, poetry; posthumous)


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