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COLLECTION Identifier: RG M-CE03, Series 00132, 00300-00305

Harvard Fatigue Laboratory records


The Harvard Fatigue Laboratory records, 1916-1952 (inclusive), 1941-1947 (bulk), consist of correspondence, research records, reports, writings and publications, photographs, and films, and are the product of the Lab's research and administrative activities.


  • 1916-1952 (inclusive),
  • 1941-1947 (bulk).


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Access to personal and patient information is restricted to 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions appear in Series I, II, IV, and V. Folders containing patient names in their titles have had that information redacted in this finding aid to protect confidentiality. These folders are marked with [name redacted]. The end of the restriction period is noted with each restricted folder. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.

Boxes 1-20, 22-35 are stored offsite. Box 21 is stored in the Center for the History of Medicine's stacks. Researchers are advised to consult Public Services for further information.

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.


17.1 cubic feet ((10 record cartons, 5 document boxes, 5 half document boxes, 2 legal document boxes, 3 half legal document boxes,1 slide box, and 11 flat oversized boxes).)

The Harvard Fatigue Laboratory Records, 1916-1952 (inclusive), 1941-1947 (bulk), consist of correspondence, research records, reports, writings and publications, photographs, and filmstrips that are the product of the Lab's research and administrative activities from 1916 to 1952. The bulk of the records date from 1941 to1947, when William H. Forbes was Acting Director, and consist of research records from projects undertaken for the United States military during World War II. Research records consist of: laboratory notebooks; notes; graphs and charts; mounted EKGs; research analyses; photographs, negatives, lantern slides; and filmstrips addressing clothing, nutrition, and high altitude. Other records include the Lab's: collected professional correspondence, which includes discussions of the Lab's operations and research; research reports; administrative records containing information related to operations and staffing; and writing and publications issued by the Lab's staff members. Series VI contains oversized publicity photographs taken of the Lab's research activities, most likely during World War II. Series VII contains newspaper and magazine clippings, reprints, and publications collected by and about staff and staff research.

The personal papers of William H. Forbes were removed from this collection and processed as H MS c323.

The Harvard Fatigue Laboratory Records consist of seven series: Series I. Professional Correspondence; Series II. Research Records; Series III. Reports; Series IV. Administrative Files; Series V. Writings and Publications; Series VI. Publicity Photographs; Series VII. Collected Reprints and Publications. Oversized items are housed in boxes 11-19.

Historical Note on the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory

The Harvard Fatigue Laboratory (the "Lab") was founded in 1927 at Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts, to study the psychological, physiological, and sociological stresses on human behavior and to apply that knowledge to better understand relevant problems in labor and industry. The driving force behind the creation of the Lab was Lawrence Joseph Henderson (1878-1942), Professor of Biological Chemistry at Harvard University and the Lab's first director. Also involved in the Lab's founding were: Wallace Brett Donham (1877-1954), Dean of Harvard Business School; David Linn Edsall (1869-1945), Dean of Harvard Medical School; William Morton Wheeler (1865-1937), Professor of Entomology at Harvard University; Elton Mayo (1880-1949), Professor of Industrial Research at Harvard Business School; and Arlie Vernon Bock (1888-), who was affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. David Bruce Dill (1891-), who later replaced Henderson as the Lab's director, was initially brought in as Research Director and was responsible for the physical planning of the Lab. Physiologist Ancel Keys (1904-2004) also served on the staff. The initial funding for the Lab was provided by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The staff of the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory encompassed a wide range of disciplines, including physiologists, biochemists, psychologists, biologists, physicians, sociologists, and anthropologists. The research performed by the Lab reflected this diversity of backgrounds and the areas of research included the physical chemistry of blood, exercise physiology, nutritional interactions, aging, and the stresses of high altitude and climate. Equipment utilized by the staff in conducting research included treadmills, a climatic room, an altitude chamber, and an animal room.

The outbreak of World War II saw the activities of the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory shift to meet the needs of the United States armed forces. David Bruce Dill left the lab in 1941 to join the Army Air Corps and William H. Forbes was appointed Acting Director, a position he held until the disbanding of the Lab in 1947. The staff changed significantly during this time, with some staff members joining the military and others joining military-sponsored research efforts, especially after the death of Lawrence Henderson in 1942. Before his death, Henderson was able to secure funding for the Lab from the National Academy of Science and the Quartermaster Corps, as the original funds from the Rockefeller Foundation were running out. The Harvard Fatigue Laboratory was contracted with the War Department to make recommendations on living conditions for military personnel operating in extreme hot and cold environments. Over 150 recommendations were made by the Lab to the military regarding clothing, nutrition, and survival gear.

Despite efforts to transition to peacetime research, the Lab did not survive long after the end of the war. Plans to transfer the Lab to the Harvard School of Public Health were delayed and eventually abandoned, and Forbes oversaw its disbanding in 1947. Factors contributing to the closing of the Lab included the death of Lawrence Joseph Henderson, the departure of Ancel Keys, the dispersal of staff during the war, and the change in Harvard Presidents from A. Lawrence Lowell to James B. Conant. After the Lab closed, its staff dispersed and continued the research they initiated at the Lab. During the twenty years of its existence, the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory produced a large body of research on physiology and biochemistry. The Lab's research on exercise contributed to the recognition of routine physical activity as an important therapeutic and preventive aspect of health, as was the Lab's development and standardization of research techniques, particularly field studies.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. Series 00300: I. Professional Correspondence
  2. Series 00301: II. Research Records
  3. ___A. Laboratory Notebooks
  4. ___B. Notes, Graphs, and Data Sheets
  5. ___C. Mounted EKGs
  6. ___D. Research Analyses
  7. ___E. Photographs, Negatives, and Lantern Slides
  8. ___F. Films
  9. Series 00302: III. Reports
  10. Series 00303: IV. Administrative Records
  11. Series 00132: V. Writings and Publications
  12. Series 00304: VI. Publicity Photographs
  13. Series 00305: VII. Collected Clippings, Reprints, and Publications

Related Collections at the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

  1. Collected papers of Lawrence Joseph Henderson, 1.Mh.1905.H
  2. William H. Forbes papers, H MS c323

Related Collections at Harvard University

  1. Records of the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory, Forms, UAV 385.229, can be found at the Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, Mass.
  2. General information by and about the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory, HUF 384.5, can be found at the Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, Mass.
  3. Harvard Business School Archives Photograph Collection: Subject Files and Events, Arch P1, can be found at the Baker Library, Boston, Mass.
  4. Lawrence Joseph Henderson papers, Arch GA 37, can be found at the Baker Library, Boston, Mass.

Resources on the History of the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory

  • Horvath, Steven M. and Elizabeth C. Horvath. The Harvard Fatigue Laboratory: Its History and Contributions. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973).

Processing Information

Processed by Bryan Sutherland and Meghan Bannon, June 2009.

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.

Harvard Fatigue Laboratory. Records, 1916-1952 (inclusive), 1941-1947 (bulk): Finding Aid. RG M-CE03, Series 00132, 00300-00305
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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