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Otto Rosenthal papers

Identifier: MSS 2/022

Scope and Contents

This small collection of Otto Rosenthal's papers contains professional and personal correspondence with colleagues and co workers during his years at the Harrison Department of Surgical Research and his work with alkaline phosphatase and cytochrome P 450. Many of the major correspondents, including Jonathan E. Rhoads, William S. Blakemore, Shakunthala Narasimhulu, David Y. Cooper, and Ronald W. Estabrook, were members of the Harrison Department. Although mention of Rosenthal's research does occasionally appear in the correspondence, the primary focus of the collection is publication of papers, evaluations and references for coworkers and colleagues, and internal administrative matters of the Harrison Department.

The bulk of the Rosenthal Papers, Series 1, is comprised of fifty one of Rosenthal's correspondence files which are divided alphabetically by correspondent or subject. Most of Rosenthal's outgoing correspondence appears in either carbon copy or handwritten draft form. Some files were assembled by Rosenthal with copies of original correspondence directed to other members of the Harrison Department.

One folder of correspondence (1953-1963) from Herbert K. Alber of the Arthur H. Thomas Company describes tissue grinding equipment. Administrative matters concerning the Harrison Department are covered in correspondence with William S. Blakemore (1956-1962), Henry B. Keep (1961-1967) and I.S. Ravdin (1952-1965). Several files concern Rosenthal's references for colleagues or assistants who were seeking positions. These include Joan D. Bartlett, Norman E. Conger, Henry Grossfeld, and Endre Tarjan. Information on Rosenthal's work on nutrition and liver disease is contained in his correspondence (1955-1956) with a technician, John Vincent Coyle, whom Rosenthal helped to seek a deferment from induction into the Army. Rosenthal's research on the enzyme phosphatase is discussed in a letter from James C. Fahl dated 25 January 1953.

Series 2 contains correspondence and occasional related materials such as membership lists and constitutions describing Otto Rosenthal's affiliation with the John Morgan Society and the Faculty Research Club at the University of Pennsylvania and the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. In the 1950s, Rosenthal also reviewed and abstracted several biochemistry works for "Biological Abstracts". His abstracts and some candid personal evaluations are contained in Series 3.


  • 1951 - 1972


Biographical / Historical

Otto Rosenthal, Philadelphia biochemist, was born in Berlin, Germany, on 12 June 1898. In 1923, he married Anina Marcovaldi, stepdaughter of Austrian novelist, Robert Musil. The Rosenthals had two children.

He received his M.D. from the Friedrich Wilhelms Universitat Medizinische Fakultat in Berlin in 1923 and then became Assistant in Internal Medicine at the Friedrichshain Hospital in Berlin. From 1923 to 1924, Rosenthal was at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute at Dahlem, and was then a chemical researcher at the Charite Hospital in Berlin from 1924 to 1925. From 1925 to 1933, he worked as Assistant in the Cancer Institute and headed the Department of Biochemistry at the university in Berlin. He then served a residency in the histological laboratory at the University of Amsterdam from 1934 to 1935.

In 1935, Rosenthal emigrated to the United States and became a medical chemist at the Research Foundation of the Franklin Institute. In 1937, he became a Fellow of the Harrison Department of Surgical Research of the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania; he remained with the Harrison Department until his death in 1980. At the University of Pennsylvania, Rosenthal was promoted to Associate in Cancer Research in 1941, Assistant Professor in 1948, Associate Professor of Biochemistry in Surgery in 1955, and, finally, full Professor in 1962. In 1967, he became Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry in Surgery.

Rosenthal was licensed in 1937 and opened a medical practice in New York City.

During the 1950s, Otto Rosenthal worked under contract with the United States Army to study the influence of nutrition on the prevention and cure of liver disease. In 1955, Rosenthal and Harry M. Vars, working under the sponsorship of the American Cancer Society, discovered that regenerating liver cells in rats produced an increase in an enzyme, alkaline phosphatase. An increase in this enzyme is also detected in cancerous and disease damaged livers. Rosenthal's primary area of interest was enzyme chemistry in relation to medical particularly cancer and surgical research. In 1963, Rosenthal, in conjunction with David Y. Cooper and Ronald W. Estabrook, established the functional significance of cytochrome P 450 in microsomal oxidation.


1.5 boxes

Language of Materials


Custodial History

The Otto Rosenthal Correspondence was donated to the Historical Collections of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia by David Y. Cooper on 8 May 1986. Dr. Cooper retrieved the correspondence from Otto Rosenthal's office after his death in 1980. The original correspondence, filed alphabetically, was divided into three boxes, each covering a number of years. To make the collection more usable, the three alphabetical files were integrated into one series during processing.
Otto Rosenthal papers
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Repository Details

Part of the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Repository

19 S. 22nd Street
Philadelphia PA 19103 United States