Samuel James Meltzer

5th APS President (1911-1913)
Samuel James Meltzer

Samuel J. Meltzer was one of the three members of the APS delegation to the Conference Committee that founded the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB, the Federation) on the evening of 31 December 1912. Because the chairmanship of the Executive Committee was rotated among the societies making up the Federation in order of seniority, Meltzer, as president of APS in 1913, became the first chairman of the Executive Committee.

Meltzer was born in Ponevyezh, Russia, into an orthodox Jewish family. He studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Berlin, where he pursued experimental research under the direction of Hugo Kronecker on the mechanism of swallowing. Soon after receiving his medical degree in 1882, he came to America, where he established himself in medical practice in New York City and continued research in his spare time in W. H. Welch's laboratory at Bellevue and J. G. Curtis's laboratory at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was elected to APS at its first annual meeting in 1888. In 1904 his devotion to physiological research was rewarded when he was invited to head the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of the newly formed Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. He retired from this position in 1919.

Meltzer's experimental research covered a wide spectrum of subjects in physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and clinical medicine. He is especially remembered for the meltzer- Kronecker theory of deglutition, generalized into a broad theory of inhibition (i.e., every excitation or stimulation of a tissue was accompanied by a corresponding inhibitory action) that acted as a stimulus to much of his work. Other important contributions included work on the anesthetic effects of magnesium salts, artificial respiration through the technique of intratracheal insufflation, and the action of epinephrine on blood vessels and the muscles of the iris.

Meltzer played a major role in his day as a liaison between laboratory scientists and clinicians and as an ardent proponent of the concept of clinical research. He was a founder and officer of several medical and biomedical societies, including the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (1903), popularly known as the Meltzer Verein, and the American Society for Clinical Investigation (1908). Howell recalled that from his election to APS until his death, Meltzer was perhaps the Society's most faithful attendant at meetings, where he gave frank but friendly criticisms of papers and took a leading part in discussions of Society policy. He was said to have been something of a "kingmaker" when it came to selecting officers of the Society. F. C. Mann, who first met Meltzer in 1916 on the occasion of giving his first paper at an APS meeting, wrote of him (Annu. Rev. Physiol. 17: 1-16, 1955):
"Dr. Meltzer was a sincere idealist, a rugged champion of the experimental method in research, an enthusiastic physiologist, a physician who diligently attempted to use his knowledge of physiology to aid his patients, a teacher of all who had an interest in science.

Selected Publications

1. Anonymous. Samuel James Meltzer. Physiologist 5: 1-7, 1962.

2. Chittenden, R. H. Samuel James Meltzer. In: Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1933, vol. 12, p. 519-520.

3. Harvey, A. M. Samuel J. Meltzer: pioneer catalyst in the evolution of clinical science in America. Perspect. Biol. Med. 21: 431-440, 1978.

4. Howell, W. H. Samuel James Meltzer. Science 53: 99-106, 1921.

5. Howell, W. H. Biographical memoir, Samuel James Meltzer, 1851-1920. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 21: 15-23, 1926.

6. Parascandola, J. Samuel James Meltzer. In: Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Scribner, 1974, vol. 9, p. 265-266.