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Oral history interview with Joshua Lederberg

  • 1992-Jun-25 (First session)
  • 1992-Jul-07 (Second session)
  • 1992-Dec-09 (Third session)

Oral history interview with Joshua Lederberg

  • 1992-Jun-25 (First session)
  • 1992-Jul-07 (Second session)
  • 1992-Dec-09 (Third session)

Joshua Lederberg begins the three-part interview with a description of his parents, family background, and early years in New York. Lederberg knew from the second grade that he wanted to be a scientist, and he experimented at home with his own chemistry lab. Lederberg cites Albert Einstein as being a positive role model in his formative years. After completing grade school in 1936, he attended the Palestine Conference with his father in Washington, DC. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School at age fifteen. Due to age restrictions, Lederberg had to wait until he was sixteen before entering Columbia University. He spent the semester between high school and college at the American Institute of Science Laboratory. Then, he received his B.A. in biology from Columbia in 1944. While in college, Lederberg did original research with colchicine and worked with Francis Ryan on Neurospora and E. coli. At age seventeen, he enlisted with the U.S. Navy and was placed in the V-12 program, serving as a naval hospital corpsman. While working towards his Ph.D., Lederberg continued his research on bacteria and E. coli.

After receiving his Ph.D. in microbiology from Yale University in 1947, he joined the University of Wisconsin as assistant professor of genetics, and he expanded the University's bacteriology research. There, Lederberg first worked on salmonella strains with his graduate students. While with the University of Wisconsin, Lederberg won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1958. Lederberg concludes the interview with a discussion of the University environment during the McCarthy era, reflections on his career decisions, and thoughts on chemical information science.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 105 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0107

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 23, 1925
  • Montclair, New Jersey, United States
  • February 02, 2008
  • New York City, New York, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1944 Columbia University BA Biology
1947 Yale University PhD Microbiology

Professional Experience

United States. Navy

  • 1943 to 1945 V-12 and Hospital Corps: Ens. USNR

Columbia University

  • 1945 to 1946 Research Assistant, Zoology

Yale University

  • 1946 to 1947 Research Fellow, Jane Coffin Childs Fund for Medical Research

University of Wisconsin--Madison

  • 1947 to 1950 Assistant Professor of Genetics
  • 1950 to 1954 Associate Professor of Genetics
  • 1954 to 1959 Professor of Genetics
  • 1957 to 1959 Chair, Department of Medical Genetics

University of California, Berkeley

  • 1950 Visiting Professor of Bacteriology

University of Melbourne

  • 1957 Visiting Professor of Bacteriology

Stanford University. School of Medicine

  • 1959 to 1978 Professor of Genetics, Biology, and Computer Science
  • 1959 to 1978 Chairman, Department of Genetics

Rockefeller University

  • 1978 to 1990 President
  • 1990 to 2001 University Professor Emeritus


Year(s) Award
1957 National Academy of Sciences
1958 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine
1960 Sc. D. (honorary), Yale University
1961 Alexander Hamilton Award, Columbia University
1961 Wilbur Cross Medal, Yale University
1961 Proctor Medal, Sigma Xi
1967 Sc. D. (honorary), University of Wisconsin
1967 Sc. D. (honorary), Columbia University
1969 M.D. (honorary), University of Turin
1970 Sc. D. (honorary), Yeshiva University
1979 Litt. D (honorary) Jewish Theological Seminary
1979 Foreign Member, Royal Academy of Sciences
1979 LL. D. (honorary), University of Pennsylvania
1980 Honrary Life Member, New York Academy of Sciences
1981 Sc. D. (honorary), Rutgers University
1981 Honorary Fellow, New York Academy of Medicine
1982 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1982 Fellow, American Philosophical Society
1982 Fellow, American Academy of the Arts and Sciences
1984 Sc. D. (honorary), New York University
1985 M.D. (honorary), Tufts University
1988 Distinguished Service Medal, Columbia University
1989 National Medal of Science
1991 D.Phil. (honorary), Tel Aviv University
1993 Founding Member, Académie Universelle des Cultures
1995 Allen Newell Award, Association for Computing Machinery
1996 John Stearns Award for Lifetime Achievement, New York Academy of Medicine
1997 Mayor's Award in Science and Technology, City of New York
1997 Maxwell Finland Award, National Foundation of Infectious Diseases
1998 Dr. Mil. Med. (honorary), USUHS

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PDF — 506 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

15 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads