Jacobson, Leon O.

Alternative names
Birth 1911-12-16
Death 1992-09-20

Biographical notes:

Physician, hematologist.

From the description of Reminiscences of Leon Jacobson : oral history, 1989. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122481752

Leon Orris Jacobson (1911-1992) was a physician, researcher in hematology, educator and administrator at the University of Chicago. Raised in a Norwegian community in Sims, North Dakota, Jacobson became interested in medicine while working as a teacher in the local school. He received a B.A. at North Dakota State University in 1935, then moved on the University of Chicago's medical school. After receiving his medical degree in 1939, he spent the rest of his career at the University of Chicago.

Jacobson's medical research focused on blood diseases and the biological effects of radiation. During World War II, Jacobson was involved in government research projects at the Toxicity Laboratory and the Metallurgical Laboratory, where he was the primary physician for University of Chicago staff working on the Manhattan Project. His clinical use of nitrogen mustards to treat cancer was among the first forms of chemotherapy. He later conducted important research on the formation of blood cells, studying the regulatory hormone erythropoietin, and the process of hemopoiesis, the formation of blood cells. Much of this work was accomplished in collaboration with medical students, and with laboratory technicians Edna Marks and Evelyn Gaston. Jacobson's work contributed to later achievements in research on erythropoietin, as well as progress in the clinical treatment of blood cancers and kidney diseases.

Between 1942 and 1951, Jacobson moved up the faculty ranks of the Department of Medicine, serving as instructor, assistant professor, then associate professor. He was appointed a full professorship in 1951, then became the Joseph Regenstein Professor in 1965. He continued conducting research and seeing patients after attaining emeritus status in 1976.

Jacobson was an influential administrator in the university, and his work was instrumental to the development of the Division of the Biological Sciences, the School of Medicine, and other biology and medical units. From 1945-1951, he served as Associate Dean, Division of the Biological Sciences and the School of Medicine. He returned as Dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and Pritzker School of Medicine from 1966-1975. He also served as Director of the Metallurgical Laboratory, founding director of Argonne Cancer Research Hospital, director of the Franklin McLean Institute, and chair of the Department of Medicine.

Jacobson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965 and was active on the organization's board, as well as the board of the National Institute of Health. He was also honored with awards from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American College of Physicians, the American Radium Society, the Leukemia Society, the American Nuclear Society, and the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. He received honorary degrees from North Dakota State University and Acadia University in Nova Scotia.

Throughout his life, Jacobson maintained a close connection to his family and community in North Dakota. In 1976, Jacobson received the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, given to prominent North Dakotans by the state's governor.

Jacobson died of complications from lung cancer in 1992. His first wife, Elizabeth Benton Jacobson, preceded him in 1983. He was survived by his second wife, Elise Torczynski Jacobson, his son Eric, daughter Judith Bonacker, and their families.

From the guide to the Jacobson, Leon O. Papers, circa 1880s-2001, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)


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Ark ID:


  • Hematology
  • Radiation--Physiological effect
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Physicians--Interview
  • Bone marrow--Transplantation
  • Medical research personnel--Interviews


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