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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c165

Cecil Kent Drinker papers


The Cecil Kent Drinker Papers, 1898-1958, contains Drinker's personal records, World War II research records, professional activities records, and administrative records from his tenures as a faculty member and Dean of Harvard School of Public Health.


  • Creation: 1898-1958.


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Consult Public Services for further information.

The Cecil Kent Drinker Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact Public Services for more information concerning retrieval of material.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all materials in the collection. Researchers are responsible for identifying and contacting any third-party copyright holders for permission to reproduce or publish. For more information on the Center's use, publication, and reproduction policies, view our Reproductions and Use Policy.


3.25 cubic feet (2 record cartons, 2 document boxes, 1 half legal document box, 1 flat oversized document box, and 2 oversized folders)

The Cecil Kent Drinker Papers, 1898-1958, consist of Drinker's professional and personal records, including his work as a physiologist and industrial medicine specialist at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. Records in this collection primarily consist of Drinker’s personal papers, World War II research records, professional activities records, and records created while he was a faculty member and dean at Harvard School of Public Health. The bulk of the collection falls between 1935 and 1950, and chiefly contains Drinker's research records and data, correspondence, lectures, and photographs documenting the development of high-altitude oxygen masks and goggles for aviators and divers in the Allied forces during World War II. Few materials document Drinker's early pre-1945 years at Harvard Medical School, his tenure as dean at Harvard School of Public Health, or his industrial hygiene medical research.


Cecil Kent Drinker was Professor of Physiology and Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health whose research specialized in industrial medicine and hygiene. Drinker was a pioneer in industrial medicine, and established industrial hygiene and applied physiology as disciplines in preventive medicine and public health. He was an authority on the lymphatic system, tissue fluid exchange, blood circulation, industrial and work-related poisoning and hygiene, as well as methods of artificial respiration. Drinker was one of the first physicians to stress the importance of the respiratory tract as the route of absorption of toxic dust and fumes, and after he completed research on manganese inhalation, became one of the leading experts in treating manganese poisoning in the United States

Drinker was born in Philadelphia on 17 March 1887 to Henry Sturgis Drinker and Aimee Ernesta Beaux. Drinker received the BS from Haverford College in 1908 and MD from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1913. While studying at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, he developed appendicitis; three subsequent operations for internal obstruction made him ineligible for military service during World War I. Drinker married Katherine Livingstone Rotan, a graduate of the Woman’s Medical College of Penn., in 1910.

After receiving his MD, Drinker completed a residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, an experience that stimulated his career-long interest in the clinical applications of physiological research. From 1915 to 1916, Drinker served as an instructor in the department of physiology at Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1916 he returned to Boston to take a position as a faculty instructor at Harvard Medical School in Walter B. Cannon’s physiology department. Two months later, Cannon was called into active military service, and Drinker was named acting head of the Department of Physiology until Cannon returned in 1918. Drinker was subsequently appointed Assistant Professor in 1918, Associate Professor in 1919, and Professor of Physiology in 1923, a post he held at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health until his retirement in 1948. From 1924 to 1935 Drinker was Assistant Dean of Harvard School of Public Health and, from 1935 to 1942, Dean of Harvard School of Public Health. During World War II, Drinker conducted respiratory physiological research for the United States armed forces, and contributed to the development of high-altitude oxygen masks and goggles for allied aviators. After retiring from Harvard School of Public Health in 1948, he lectured at Cornell Medical School from 1948 to 1949 and was a consultant to many industrial organizations, as well as the United States Navy, from 1951 to 1953. From 1926 to 1927, Drinker spent a sabbatical year in Copenhagen, Denmark in the Laboratory of Zoöphysiology at the University of Copenhagen working with Professor August Krogh on research on the lymphatic system, one of Drinker's major areas of research during his career.

Drinker published 250 articles, textbooks, and reports during his career on topics including the circulatory system, lymphatic system, industrial hygiene, asphyxiation, and physiology. In 1954 he published the textbook Clinical Physiology of the Lungs. He was also instrumental in starting the Journal of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology. For many years, Drinker, his wife, and his brother Philip were the editors of this publication.

Drinker died on 15 April 1956 in Falmouth, Mass.

Series and Subseries Arrangement

  1. Series I. Personal and Family Papers, 1898-1957
  2. ___Subseries A. Biographical Papers, 1909-1951
  3. ___Subseries B. Family Papers, 1926-1943
  4. ___Subseries C. Personal Correspondence, 1925-1956
  5. ___Subseries D. Personal Photographs, 1898-1955
  6. Series II. Harvard School of Public Health Records, 1920-1955
  7. ___Subseries A. Harvard School of Public Health Administrative Records and Correspondence, 1920-1955
  8. ___Subseries B. World War II Defense Research Records, 1940-1945
  9. ___Subseries C. Harvard Photographs, 1915-1916, 1933
  10. Series III. Research Records, 1926-1951
  11. ___Subseries A. Industrial Health Research Records, 1926-1949
  12. ___Subseries B. Research on Development of Oxygen Masks Records, 1939-1958
  13. Series IV. Correspondence and Photographs from Research with August Krogh, 1903-1953
  14. Series V. Professional Activities Records, 1940-1947
  15. ___Subseries A. National Research Council Records, 1940-1947
  16. ___Subseries B. Other Wartime Professional Activities Records, 1941-1947
  17. Series VI. Writings and Lectures, 1913-1958
  18. ___Subseries A. Writings, 1924-1958
  19. ___Subseries B. Lectures, 1913-1948


The collection is organized into six series. Photographs are listed where there appear in the collection and are housed in Box 4. Oversized folders listed in the collection are housed in Boxes 5 and 6. Two oversized folders of blueprints are housed separately in the Center for the History of Medicine drawer XL006.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Cecil K. Drinker Papers were donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by Anne S. Drinker, daughter of Cecil K. Drinker, in 1971.

Related Materials

Related collections in the Center for the History of Medicine include:

  1. Cecil Kent Drinker's faculty publications (1.Mh.1912.D)
  2. Lectures given the first year medical students in physiology, Harvard Medical School. 1916-1919. (1.Mh.1916.D)

For further information on related materials, consult the Public Services Librarian.

Processing Information

Processed by Nighat Saleemi and Jennifer Pelose, October 2002

Processing Note: The Cecil Kent Drinker Papers were formerly accessed by call number GA 19.4. Unprocessed papers were interfiled, and the collection was organized into six series.

Drinker, Cecil Kent, 1887-1956. Papers, 1898-1958: Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine) Repository

The Center for the History of Medicine in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is one of the world's leading resources for the study of the history of health and medicine. Our mission is to enable the history of medicine and public health to inform healthcare, the health sciences, and the societies in which they are embedded.

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