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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c160

Irvin H. Blank papers


The Irvin H. Blank papers were produced in the course of his work as a researcher in dermatology and document the development of dermatological research as a medical specialty. Also included are his correspondence and work produced as a consultant for private corporations.


  • 1927-1992 (inclusive)


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions appear in Series I-III, V and VII. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.

The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact reference staff 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.


10.4 cubic feet (10 record cartons and one document box.)

These records are the product of Irvin H. Blank's research in dermatology. One of the first researchers in the field of dermatology, Blank held a Ph.D. rather than an M.D. and did not have a clinical practice. The bulk of the records in the collection are his research notes and data, and material produced in the course of publishing research papers. Additional material documents Blank's work as a consultant for private companies (Series V), and his work with professional organizations (Series VI). The files were created over a period of more than 60 years (1927-1992), but the majority of files were produced between 1940 and 1970. Blank worked with a variety of private companies, but his longest lasting and most productive relationships were with the National Oil Products Company (later NOPCO) and White Laboratories.

Biographical Notes

Irvin Haas Blank was one of the first researchers to specialize in dermatology. His research career spanned over 60 years, most of which were spent at the Harvard Medical School and its affiliates. Blank's research produced groundbreaking work in several areas of dermatology, particularly in the areas of the pH of the skin, the effects of detergents on the skin, the development of the modern surgical scrub, and the identification of skin allergens. When awarded the Society of Cosmetic Chemists Special Award in 1959, he was referred to as "the father of 'moisturizers'," in reference to his work in discovering the role of water in the stratum corneum and the function of emollients.

Blank was born February 20, 1902 in Mount Carmel, Illinois. He received his bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 1924, while working as a chemist at the Federal Products Company in Cincinnati. After graduation he took a job as a chemist for the A.C. Lawrence Leather Company of Peabody, Massachusetts. He worked there from 1924 until 1931, with a break between 1926-1928, when he returned to the University of Cincinnati to obtain his M.S. and Ph.D. After receiving his Ph.D., Blank worked for 4 years as both the Director of Bacteriological Research at the Tanner's Council Research Laboratory and as a Research Associate in the Department of Leather Research at the University of Cincinnati's Institute of Scientific Research.

In 1934 Blank came to Harvard University as a Research Fellow in Botany. He moved to Harvard Medical School as a Research Fellow in Dermatology in 1936. This position was funded by a grant-in-aid by the National Oil Products Company and was the first industry fellowship in the Dermatology Department. In 1938 he also became a Research Fellow in Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital. He remained affiliated with both institutions in a variety of research positions until 1994, although he had officially retired in 1968, after seven years as an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School. By the late 1970s, Blank was working with Dr. John A. Parrish at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine. At Wellman he worked in a variety of research areas, including the effect of UVA on skin, skin responses to sunburn, and the function of sun screens.

Blank's participation in professional organizations was quite extensive. He was a member of the American Medical Association Committee on Cosmetics for eleven years (1951-1962), and served on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology from 1956-1961. By the mid 1950s Blank had become very involved with the Society for Investigative Dermatology, and he would hold several different leadership positions within the Society through the mid-1960s. He was instrumental in the creation of the Dermatology Foundation, and served as its secretary from 1965 (the year after it was incorporated) until 1978.

Blank was married to Anne for 58 years. They had two daughters. He died in 2000.

Series in the Collection

  1. Series I. Raw Laboratory Research Data
  2. Series II. Research Notes and Publication Preparation
  3. Series III. Research Notes
  4. Series IV. A.C. Lawrence Leather Company Records
  5. Series V. Consulting Records
  6. Series VI. Professional Organization Records
  7. Series VII. Correspondence
  8. Series VIII. Invoices
  9. Series IX. Reprints

Custodial History

Records were transferred from the Wellman Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. Accession number 2004-055 Donated to the Harvard Medical Library by Blank's daughters. June 1, 2004

Processing Information

Processed by Honor Moody.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine re-foldered, reboxed, re-ordered folders, and created a finding aid. Processing staff discarded duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine. Four boxes of Wellman Laboratory records were intermixed with Blank's papers. These records were removed and returned to Massachusetts General Hospital. The original order, if any, of Blank's paper's was lost prior to their transfer to the Library. Processing staff recreated series based on the apparent functions of the records. Most of the material was already in labeled folders and these label names were retained; folder titles appearing in brackets were supplied by processor with any exceptions noted. Preservation photocopies were made of any folders with notes located on the folder itself. Folders in Series II are listed by the paper to which they relate and are not individually listed in the finding aid. Loose material within the boxes was foldered, and is identified as such. Reprints of articles were removed from individual files and are housed together at the end of the collection, with the exception of some reprints with marginal notes which were left in situ.

Blank, Irvin Haas, 1902-2000. Papers, 1927-1992: A Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description
These papers were processed with financial aid from Johnson and Johnson, Consumer & Personal Products Worldwide.

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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