Joseph Erlanger

11th APS President (1926-1929)
Joseph Erlanger

As president of APS Erlanger traveled to Stockholm to repeat the invitation on behalf of APS to hold the XIII International Physiological Congress in America. He remained president through the congress held in Boston in August 1929. Born in San Francisco, Erlanger attended Berkeley and then went east to earn his medical degree at Johns Hopkins, where he worked during the summers with Lewellys Barker. Shortly after Erlanger received his M.D. degree in 1899, he was offered an assistant professorship at Johns Hopkins under William Henry Howell. He was elected to APS in 1901.

After 1904 Erlanger's research concerned the conduction of excitation in the heart; he showed that Stokes-Adams syndrome resulted from blockage of conduction between the auricles and ventricles. After four years at the University of Wisconsin, in 1910 he accepted the chair of physiology at Washington University in St. Louis, which he held until his retirement in 1946. His department became one of the major research centers in physiology in America. At Washington University, he continued his work on cardiovascular physiology and, during the war, carried out research on the problem of shock. In 1921 he shifted his interests to neurophysiology, and he and his colleague, Herbert Gasser, began their celebrated joint work on the amplification and recording of nerve action potentials with the cathode ray oscilloscope, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1944. Their major discoveries in neurophysiology were published beginning in 1922 in the American Journal of Physiology.

Elected to Council in 1910, Erlanger remained on Council, with the exception of two years, until 1929. As treasurer form 1913 to 1923, he helped shape the financial policies of the Society and played an important part in the financial aspects of the transfer of the American Journal of Physiology to the Society. He served on the Publications Committee in 1913-14 (and also through the remainder of his time on Council, since Council served as Publications Committee after 1914) and was a member of the Board of Editors of American Journal of Physiology from 1936 to 1938. C. W. Greene wrote, "He has always been characterized by his conservative leadership in the business and organization work of the Society, of which he has carried a large share of responsibility."

Selected Publications

1. Anonymous. Joseph Erlanger, 1874-1965. Physiologist 11: 1-2, 1968.

2. Davis, H. Joseph Erlanger, January 5, 1874-December 5, 1965. Biogr Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 41: 111-139, 1970.

3. Erlanger, J. Prefatory chapter: a physiologist reminisces. Annu. Rev. Physiol. 26: 1-14, 1964.

4. Howell, W. H., and C. W. Greene. History of the American Physiological Society Semicentennial, 1887-1937. Baltimore, MD: Am. Physiol. Soc., 1938, p. 131-133.

5. Ludmerer, K. M. Joseph Erlanger. In: Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1981, suppl. 7, p. 225-227.

6. Monnier, A. M. Joseph Erlanger. In: Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Scribner, 1971, vol. 4, p. 397-399.