Kolff, Willem J.

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Dr. Willem Johan Kolff (1911-2009) has been an internationally-known name in the world of medicine since 1957 when he began working on the total artificial heart at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Known as the "Father of Artificial Organs", his pioneering spirit actually led him to make giant leaps in medicine long before he was so well-known.

Born February 14, 1911, in Leyden, The Netherlands, Dr. Kolff went to the University of Groningen for his residency in medicine during the German occupation. He started working on the artificial kidney in 1939, and became the first internist at a small hospital in Kampen, where he continued the work on the artificial kidney. The rotating drum kidney was developed in 1941, and by 1955 the twin-coil kidney had led to the possibility of dialysis worldwide. Work on the heart-lung machines began in 1948, and the first membrane oxygenators were used successfully in patients in 1955.

Dr. Kolff and his wife Janke had five children who were all born in the Netherlands. They immigrated to the United States in 1950. Here Dr. Kolff worked in the Research Department and the Department of Surgery of the Cleveland Clinicirca He worked on the artificial kidney, the heart lung machine, and invented the total artificial heart in 1957, one year after becoming a United States citizen. He became Scientific Director of Cleveland's Artificial Organ program, then moved to Utah in 1967 to direct the Division of Artificial Organs and the Institute for Biomedical Engineering at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

At the Division of Artificial Organs and the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Dr. Kolff was in charge of teams working on artificial kidneys, artificial hearing, the artificial eye, artificial arm, the subcutaneous peritoneal access device, and the artificial heart. In 1982 Dr. Barney Clark received the first "permanent artificial heart" implanted in a human. This event made the University of Utah known throughout the world as the leader in artificial organ research.

Dr. Kolff has received more than a hundred awards, among these the prestigious Japan Prize in 1986. He has published more than six hundred articles. He has been active in social issues such as abortion rights and nuclear weapon protests, and has always been interested in nature and art. He died February 11, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

From the guide to the Willem J. Kolff audio-visual collection, 1949-1995, (J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Willem J. Kolff audio-visual collection, 1949-1995 J. Willard Marriott Library, University of UtahAudio Visual Archives
referencedIn Barney B. Clark papers, 1910-1984 J. Willard Marriott Library, University of UtahManuscripts Division
referencedIn William C. DeVries Papers, 1946-2002 History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine
referencedIn DeVries, William C. (William Castle), 1943-. William C. DeVries papers, 1946-2002. National Library of Medicine
referencedIn Watson, John T., 1940-. John T. Watson papers, 1964-2003. National Library of Medicine
referencedIn John T. Watson Papers, 1964-2003 History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine
referencedIn Short biography : William J. Kilff, M.D., Ph.d 29 Mar 1985. Utah Division of State History, Utah Historical Society
creatorOf [Willem J. Kolff, biographical materials] University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Clark, Una Loy Clark person
associatedWith DeVries, William C. (William Castle), 1943- person
associatedWith University of Utah corporateBody
associatedWith Watson, John T., 1940- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Science, Technology, and Health
Heart, Mechanical--Utah--History--Sources
Medicine and Health
Artificial arms--Utah--History--Sources
Sound Recordings
Material Types
Heart, Artificial--Utah--History--Sources
Artificial kidney--Utah--History--Sources
Moving Images
Eyes, Artificial--Utah--History--Sources


Birth 1911-02-14

Death 2009-02-11


Dutch; Flemish


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