Rivers, Thomas M. (Thomas Milton), 1888-1962

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Thomas Milton Rivers conducted medical research in bacteriology. He discovered the bacillus Parainfluenzae and cultivated vaccine virus for human use. Most of his research was conducted at the Hospital of the Rockefeller Institute, where he was director from 1937-1955.

From the description of Papers, [ca. 1941-1963]. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122440206

After a desultory education in Jonesboro, Georgia, Thomas M. Rivers discovered biology as an undergraduate at Emory College. With the encouragement of a biology professor, he entered medical school at Johns Hopkins in 1909, though a mysterious nervous degeneration (diagnosed as Aran-Duchenne atrophy) forced him to withdraw in the middle of his second year. Rivers made the most of his recovery, taking a position as a laboratory assistant at a hospital in Panama to gain clinical experience, and when his condition vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared, he returned to Hopkins, completing his MD in 1915.

Rivers' internship in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital was interrupted by military service, an event that induced an unexpected, but important shift in his perspective. Entering the Army medical corps in 1918, Rivers was assigned to For Sam Houston, near San Antonio, Texas, to take part in a commission headed by Rufus Ivory Cole of the Rockefeller Institute, investigating concurrent outbreaks of measles and pneumonia. The experience awakened Rivers' interest in medical research, and when he returned to Hopkins at the end of his military obligations, he transferred into the Department of Bacteriology. In 1922, Cole invited Rivers to join the Institute and pursue research in the still poorly understood field of virology.

Between 1922 and 1955, Rivers molded Rockefeller into the preeminent laboratory for research on viruses, and in over 100 papers published during these years, Rivers addressed a range of topics relating to some of the most devastating viral diseases, including smallpox, Rift Valley Fever, and epidemic encephalitis. More importantly, he helped delineate the disciplinary boundaries of virology as both conceptually and methodologically distinct.

During the Second World War, Rivers again offered his services, serving as commander of the Naval Medical Research Unit in the South Pacific where his attentions were drawn to coordinating the effort to combat malaria and typhus. He eventually retired from the Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral. He returned to the Rockefeller in 1946, remaining for an additional ten years and eventually earning promotion to director of the institute (1953-1955).

In the last few years of his life, Rivers served as medical director of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, with which he had been associated since 1938, and as such, played a highly visible role in the development of the polio vaccine. He stepped down in 1958 to become Vice President for medical Affairs, remaining in that position until his death in 1962. Rivers was recognized for his work with election to the American Philosophical Society (1942) and the National Academy of Sciences (1932), and he served as president of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (1932), the Society of American Immunologists (1934), and the Society of American Bacteriologists (1936).

From the guide to the Thomas M. Rivers Papers, 1887-1963, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Rivers, Thomas M. (Thomas Milton), 1888-1962. Papers, [ca. 1941-1963]. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Biographical data on Karl Landsteiner, 1923-1952, 1923-1952 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Rockefeller University. Administration (Academic). Vice Presidents. Records, 1911-1973. Rockefeller Archive Center
creatorOf Thomas M. Rivers Papers, 1887-1963 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Stanford University Press archival book copies, 1900-2012 Cecil H. Green Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Albert B. Sabin Papers, 1930-1993, 1939-1969 University of Cincinnati, Health Sciences Library, Henry R. Winkler Center for the History of the Health Professions
creatorOf Mackenzie, George M.,. Biographical data on Karl Landsteiner, 1923-1952. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Rockefeller University. Archives, 1901- Rockefeller Archive Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Medical Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Andrewes, Christopher Howard, Sir, 1896- . person
associatedWith Bayne-Jones, Stanhope, 1888-1970. person
associatedWith Berry, George Packer, 1898- . person
associatedWith Bronk, Detlev Wulf, 1897-1975. person
associatedWith Cannon, Walter B., (Walter Bradford), 1871-1945 person
associatedWith Chesney, Alan Mason, 1888-1964. person
associatedWith Chinard, Francis P., 1918- . person
associatedWith Cohn, Alfred E. (Alfred Einstein), 1879-1957. person
associatedWith Cole, Rufus Ivory, 1872-1966. person
associatedWith Corner, George Washington, 1889-1981 person
associatedWith Dubos, René J. (René Jules), 1901- . person
associatedWith Flexner, Simon, 1863-1946 person
associatedWith Gasser, Herbert S. (Herbert Spencer), 1888-1963. person
associatedWith Hershey, A. D. (Alfred Day), 1908-. person
associatedWith Jackson, Robert H. person
associatedWith Jackson, Robert H. person
associatedWith Loeb, Jacques, 1859-1924 person
associatedWith Long, Esmond R. (Esmond Ray), 1890-1979. person
associatedWith Mackenzie, George M., person
associatedWith Mackenzie, George M., collector. person
associatedWith National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. corporateBody
associatedWith O'Connor, Basil, 1892-1972 person
associatedWith Rockefeller Institute. Hospital. corporateBody
associatedWith Rockefeller University. corporateBody
associatedWith Rockefeller University. Administration (Academic). Vice Presidents. corporateBody
associatedWith Rous, Peyton, 1879-1970 person
associatedWith Sabin, Albert B., 1906- . person
associatedWith Salk, Jonas, 1914-1995. person
associatedWith Salk, Jonas et al. person
associatedWith Stanford University. Press. corporateBody
associatedWith Welch, William Henry, 1850-1934 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Atomic bomb
Medical administration
Medical sciences
Medicine, Military
United States. Navy. Naval Medical Research Unit II
World War, 1914-1918
World War, 1939-1945


Birth 1888-09-03

Death 1962-05-12


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