Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c220

Otto Krayer papers


The Otto Krayer papers, 1917-1982 (inclusive), 1946-1968 (bulk), are the product of Krayer’s activities as a pharmacologist, editor, author, and professor.


  • Creation: 1917-1982 (inclusive),
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1946-1968 .


Language of Materials

Records are in English and German.

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, II, and III. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.

The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to consult Public Services for further 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.


13.3 cubic feet (13 records center cartons and 1 flat oversized box)

The Otto Krayer papers, 1917-1982 (inclusive), 1946-1968 (bulk), are the product of Krayer’s activities as a pharmacologist, editor, author, and professor. The collection includes professional correspondence generated by Krayer while in Germany and the United States and records of his: involvement with professional organizations; editorial work; and service to European aid organizations, as well as his activities as an author and professor of pharmacology. Biographical records and awards and honors received by Krayer are also included in the collection.

The Otto Krayer papers consist of six series: I. Personal and Professional Correspondence; II. Professional Activities Records; III. Teaching Records; IV. Writings and Publications; V. Personal and Assorted Biographical Records; and VI. Bound Reprints.

Materials are in English and German.

Biographical Note

Otto Krayer (1899-1982), M.D., 1926, University of Freiburg, Germany, was a pharmacologist, professor, and researcher. Krayer was an international leader in the field of pharmacology and Head of the Department of Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, for twenty-eight years. In 1933, Krayer refused an appointment to an academic chair at the University of Dusseldorf, Germany after the removal of the Jewish incumbent by Nazi government officials in Germany. For this, Krayer was banned from German academic, library, and scientific facilities, prompting relocations to England, Lebanon, and eventually the United States of America. Krayer’s primary research focus during his tenure at Harvard Medical School was cardiac pharmacology and veratrum alkaloids.

Otto Herman Krayer was born in Kondringen, Germany, on October 22, 1899, the son of Frieda Wolfsperger and Hermann Krayer. A 1939 passenger list lists Krayer’s race as German. Growing up, Krayer helped his parents run an inn and operate the family farm. During World War I, he was drafted into the German Army in 1917, at age eighteen. Krayer saw frontline infantry combat from April to October 1918 and was wounded in battle before the 1918 armistice. During his recovery, Krayer completed his university entrance requirements and in 1919 entered the University of Freiburg, Germany to study medicine. Krayer earned his M.D. in 1926.

After receiving his M.D., Krayer joined the Department of Pharmacology at Freiburg, working under pharmacologist Paul Trendelenburg (1884-1931). In 1927, Trendelenburg moved to the University of Berlin, Germany to become the head of the pharmacology department and Krayer followed. After Trendelenburg’s death in 1931, Krayer was made acting head of the department and, in 1932, was appointed Professor Extraordinarius of Pharmacology and Toxicology. In the spring of 1933, Krayer was offered a departmental chair position at the University of Dusseldorf. Krayer declined, as the Jewish incumbent, Philipp Ellinger, had been removed from the chair on racial grounds by the Nazi government. As a result, the Prussian Minister for Science, Art and National Education suspended Krayer from his academic positions and banned him from German academic, library, and scientific facilities. In October 1933, Krayer was reinstated to the University of Berlin and had his academic privileges restored, but, having secured a Rockefeller Fellowship, left Germany at the end of 1933 for University College, London.

After his fellowship ended in the fall of 1934, Krayer moved to American University Beirut as Visiting Professor and Head of the Department of Pharmacology. In 1936, Krayer was American University’s representative to Harvard University’s Tercentenary Celebration. That fall, he stayed on as a visiting lecturer in pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. Encouraged by Walter B. Cannon (1871-1945), Krayer returned to Harvard in 1937 and was appointed Associate Professor of Pharmacology. In 1939, Krayer was appointed Associate Professor of Comparative Pharmacology and Head of the Department of Pharmacology, a position he held until a Harvard-mandated retirement in 1966. Krayer would go on to be appointed Professor of Pharmacology (1951), Charles Wilder Professor of Pharmacology (1954), and Gustavus Adolphus Pfeiffer Professor of Pharmacology (1964, Emeritus 1966).

As Head of the Harvard Medical School's Pharmacology Department, Krayer was known for emphasizing collaboration among his staff and maintaining a balance between the Department’s teaching and research functions. He also recognized the importance of incorporating other fields, namely biochemistry, physiology, and psychology, into pharmacological research, in order to study the full range of the effects of pharmaceuticals. Krayer’s primary research focus during his tenure was cardiac pharmacology and veratrum alkaloids, and he was noted for his skill in using the Starling heart-lung preparation. Additionally, influenced by B. F. Skinner (1904-1990), Krayer and department member Peter B. Dews (born 1922) explored the behavioral effects of drugs and helped to legitimize it as field of study within pharmacology. In 1938, Krayer, frustrated in his dealings with the administration at the medical school, accepted a position at Peiping Union Medical College, China, but ultimately remained at Harvard, in part due a petition signed by his students asking the medical school administration to retain him. Though Krayer had a difficult relationship with Dean C. Sidney Burwell (1893-1967), he formed a productive relationship with his successor, Dean George Packer Berry (1898-1986).

During World War II, the United States government classified Krayer as an “enemy alien,” and Krayer’s travel was restricted to a twenty-five mile radius around Boston. During the immediate post-war period, Krayer joined Unitarian Service Committee-sponsored medical missions to Czechoslovakia (1946) and Germany (1948). He was also a supporter of the Committee for Aid to German and Austrian Scholars, serving as secretary-treasurer of a fundraising committee based at Harvard Medical School. Krayer was highly involved with the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, becoming a member in 1938 and serving as president (1957-1958) and as chairman of the Board of Publications Trustees (1960-1962). He served as an editor for the Society’s journal, Pharmacological Reviews (1948-1959), including editor-in-chief (1953-1959). Krayer also served as an Associate Editor for the German publication Ergebnisse der Physiologie (1933-1935, 1939-1976).

During his career, Krayer received the following awards and honors: the inaugural Torald Sollmann Award of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (1961); Schmiedeberg Plakette of the German Pharmacological Society (1964); Otto Krayer Lectureship at Harvard Medical School (established 1966); Research Achievement Award, American Heart Association (1969); Otto Krayer Award in Pharmacology, American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (established 1985). Additionally, the Otto Krayer Professorship of Pharmacology was established at Harvard Medical School in 1981. Krayer received honorary degrees from Harvard University, the University of Freiburg, the University of Gottingen, Germany, and the Technical University of Munich, Germany.

Krayer married physician Erna Ruth Phillip (1900-1994), his long-time assistant, in 1939. The two first met while Krayer was studying at Freiburg in the early 1920s. Erna was also a victim of antisemitic Nazi policies, having been dismissed from a Berlin hospital position for being Jewish. She assisted Otto in completing the book began by his mentor Paul Trendelenburg, Die Hormone, after Otto had been banned from German libraries. Erna moved with him to Beirut, Lebanon as his literary assistant, and then to Boston as well. The couple had no children. After retiring, Krayer moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1972, serving as Visiting Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, College of Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson (1972-1980), and spent his summers in Germany as a Visiting Professor, Department of Pharmacology, Technical University of Munich (1972-1980). Krayer died in 1982 of prostate cancer.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. I. Personal and Professional Correspondence, 1930-1982
  2. II. Professional Activities Records, 1929, 1942-1979, undated
  3. ___A. American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 1946-1977
  4. ______ 1. Correspondence, 1946-1966
  5. ______ 2. Committees, Councils, and Boards, 1948-1950, 1956-1963, 1977
  6. ______ 3. Meetings, 1948-1964, 1973
  7. ______ 4. Finances, 1954-1963
  8. ___B. Editorial Appointments, 1942-1979
  9. ______ 1. Pharmacological Reviews, 1942-1970
  10. ______ 2. Ergebnisse der Physiologie, 1948-1979
  11. ______ 3. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 1944-1963
  12. ___ C. Unitarian Service Committee, 1946-1964, undated
  13. ___ D. Events, 1929, 1951-1968, 1978, undated
  14. ___ E. Committee for Aid to German and Austrian Scholars, 1947-1948
  15. III. Teaching Records, 1920s-1974, undated
  16. ___ A. Lecture Files, 1920s-1974, undated
  17. ___ B. Subject Files, 1960-1972, undated
  18. IV. Writings and Publications, 1938-1976, undated
  19. V. Personal and Assorted Biographical Records, 1917-1982, undated
  20. ___ A. Awards and Honors, 1926, 1946-1981, undated
  21. ___ B. Biographical Sources and Photographs, 1917-1982, undated
  22. ___ C. Medical School Student Notebooks, circa 1926
  23. VI. Bound Reprints, undated

Related Collections in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine

  1. Records of the Department of Pharmacology, 1938-1974 (inclusive). RG M-SD08, Series 00377.
  2. Papers of Reid Hunt, 1903-1940 (inclusive). GA 40.
  3. Papers of Henry K. Beecher, 1848-1976. H MS c64.
  4. Papers of Walter B. Cannon, 1873-1945 (inclusive), 1881-1945 (bulk). H MS c40.

Related Records at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School.

Resources on Otto Krayer

  • Avram Goldstein. Otto Krayer, 1899-1982. A biographical memoir by Avram Goldstein. Washington, D.C., The National Academy Press, 1987.

Processing Information

Processed by Bryan Sutherland, 2011 December.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the records and created a finding aid to improve access to the collection. To enhance preservation, processing staff re-housed the collection and, where necessary, photocopied documents onto acid-free paper. Duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine were discarded. Folder titles were transcribed from the originals.

As a product of processing, four cubic feet of records were transferred to the Harvard Medical School Archives and processed as Series 00377, Records of the Department of Pharmacology. Charlotte Lellman revised the Biographical Note in this finding aid in September 2020 to bring it into compliance with the Center for the History of Medicine’s Guidelines for Inclusive and Conscientious Description (2020). She primarily made small stylistc changes, and also updated the language around Krayer's "enemy alien" status and the antisemitism that Erna Ruth Philip experienced. The previous version of the finding aid is being maintained for transparency around the descriptive process.

Krayer, Otto, 1899-1982. Papers, 1917-1982 (inclusive), 1946-1968 (bulk): 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.

10 Shattuck Street
Boston MA 02115
(617) 432-2170