© The Nobel Foundation
Joseph Erlanger

American Jewish Recipients of the Nobel Prize

Joseph Erlanger: Nobel Prize
in Phsiology or Medicine Recipient-1944

by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Joseph Erlanger was an American Jewish recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in 1944, which he shared with Herbert Spenser Gasser, for their discoveries relating to the highly differentiated functions of single nerve fibers.

He was born on January 5, 1874, in San Francisco. He was the son of Sarah and Herman Erlanger, who was a gold prospector. Erlanger married Aimee Hirstel, in 1906, who died in 1959. They had three children, Margaret (b. 1908, d. 1974), Ruth Josephine (b.1910) and Herman (b. 1912, d. 1959).

Erlanger attended San Francisco Boys High and graduated in 1891. He received his B.S. in Chemistry at the University of Berkeley, in 1895. He then went to John Hopkins University and received his Medical Degree, 1899.

After graduation, he became an instructor at John Hopkins Medical School in the Department of Physiology; later, he was elevated to an Associate and then Associate Professor. In 1901, he was a Scholar at the University of Strasbourg

In 1906, Erlanger became the first professor of physiology at the newly established medical school at the University of Wisconsin. It is here, that one of his students was Herbert Gasser, who later collaborated with him. He became a professor of physiology at Washington University, St. Louis, 1911-1946.

Erlanger had received honorary doctorates from the University of California, University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan.

In 1922, in collaboration with Gasser, Erlanger adapted the cathode-ray oscillograph for the study of nerve action potentials, which led to the work that they both were awarded the Nobel Prize, in 1944.

He died in St, Louis on December 5, 1965.

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