John Franklin Enders ("The Father of Modern Vaccines")

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John Franklin Enders, Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine, 1954

Birthdate: (88)
Death: September 8, 1985 (88)
Immediate Family:

Son of John Ostrom Enders and Harriet Eliza Enders

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About John Franklin Enders ("The Father of Modern Vaccines")

John Franklin Enders (February 10, 1897 – September 8, 1985) was an American medical scientist and Nobel laureate. Enders had been called "The Father of Modern Vaccines."


Enders was born in West Hartford, Connecticut and was educated at the Noah Webster School at Hartford and St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. He then attended Yale University for a short time before entering the United States Army Air Corps in 1918.

After returning from war he graduated from Yale, where he was a member of Scroll and Key as well as Delta Kappa Epsilon, and went on to become a businessman in real estate in 1922. He tried his hand at several careers before choosing to work in the biological field studying infectious diseases, gaining a Ph.D. at Harvard in 1930.

In 1954, while working at Children's Hospital Boston, Enders, Thomas Huckle Weller, and Frederick Chapman Robbins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in cultures of various types of tissue". This work was the first to show that viruses of this type could be grown and manipulated outside of the body. It was this technique dubbed the Enders-Weller-Robbins method that Jonas Salk used to develop the polio vaccine in 1952. After a large-scale test of the vaccine proved successful in 1954, Salk appeared on a radio show and announced his success to the world. Although he never claimed the credit for himself, he also did not offer up any credit to any of his colleagues, including Enders, Weller, and Robbins, whose technique made his success possible. Salk became a hero to the public, but was somewhat shunned by the scientific community. Despite this misappropriated credit many professionals in the field still regard Enders', Weller's and Robbins' work as substantial have given Enders the title of "The Father of Modern Vaccines".

On October 4, 1960, the New York Times reported that Dr Enders was leading a team testing a measles vaccine on 1,500 retarded children in New York City and another 4,000 children in Nigeria. By late 1961, the vaccine was proven to be completely effective.

Enders died in 1985 in Waterford, Connecticut, aged 88.


1946: Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1953: Election to National Academy of Sciences

1953: Passano Award

1954: Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research

1954: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

1955: Charles V. Chapin Medal

1955: Gordon Wilson Medal

1958: Election to the Polio Hall of Fame at Warm Springs, Georgia

1961: TIME Man of the Year

1962: Robert Koch Medaille, Germany

1963: Presidential Medal of Freedom, United States

1967: Foreign Member, Royal Society of London

1981: Galen Medal of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, London.

Honorary doctoral degrees from thirteen universities.


John Franklin Enders was born on February 10th, 1897, at West Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A. He is the son of John Ostrom Enders, a banker in Hartford, and Harriet Goulden Enders (née Whitmore).

Enders was educated at the Noah Webster School at Hartford and St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. Finishing school in 1915, he went to Yale University, but in 1917 left his studies there to become, in 1918, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Ensign. After the First World War he returned to Yale and was given, in 1919, the degree of B.A. (honoris causa) and the normal degree in 1920.

He then went into business in real estate in Hartford, but, becoming dissatisfied with this, he entered Harvard University. For four years he studied English literature and Germanic and Celtic languages with the idea of becoming a teacher of English, but he was not satisfied with this career either. He had been for a long time interested in biology and this interest was reawakened by his friendships with medical students at Harvard, with the result that he decided to enter as a candidate for the Ph.D. degree in bacteriology and immunology. In coming to this decision he was influenced by the late Professor Hans Zinsser, who was then Head of the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology at Harvard and by Dr. H. K. Ward, who later became Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Sidney, Australia.

In 1930, Enders received the degree of Ph.D. at Harvard for a thesis which presented evidence that bacterial anaphylaxis and hypersensitivity of the tuberculin type are distinct phenomena.

From 1930 until 1946, Enders remained at Harvard as a member of the teaching staff. During this period he studied, first, the elucidation of certain factors related to bacterial virulence and the resistance of the host organism. He then clarified, in collaboration with Ward, Shaffer, Wu, and others the inhibitory effect of the type specific capsular polysaccharides of Pneumococcus upon the phagocytic process. This work discovered a new form of Type I polysaccharide and produced evidence that complement played a catalytic-like part in the opsonization of bacteria by specific antibody.

In 1938, Enders began the study of some of the mammalian viruses, and undertook, in 1941, in collaboration with Cohen, Kane, Levens, Stokes and others, a study of the virus of mumps. This work provided serological tests for the diagnosis of this disease and a skin test for susceptibility to it, and demonstrated the immunizing effect of inactivated mumps virus and the possibility of attenuating the virulence of this virus by passing it through chick embryos. It was shown that mumps often occurs in a form that is not apparent, but nevertheless confers a resistance which is as effective as that conferred by the visible disease.

In 1946, Enders was asked to establish a laboratory for research in infectious diseases at the Children's Medical Center at Boston. In this laboratory much outstanding work on the viral diseases of man has been done under his direction and it was here that the work was done on the cultivation of the poliomyelitis viruses for which Enders was awarded, together with T. H. Weller and F. C. Robbins, the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1954.

Since this time Enders has returned, in collaboration with Peebles, to his earlier work on measles. He is now Higgins University Professor at Harvard University and Chief of the Research Division of Infectious Diseases of the Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Enders is a member of a great number of American learned societies, the Society for General Microbiology and the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health in Great Britain, the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher (Leopoldina), and is Foreign Corresponding Member of the British Medical Association and the Académie Royale de Médicine de Belgique.

He married Sarah Frances Bennett, of Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1927. She died in 1943, and in 1951 Enders married Carolyn B. Keane of Newton Center, Massachusetts. He has one son John Ostrom Enders II, one daughter, Sarah Enders, and a stepson, William Edmund Keane.

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John Franklin Enders ("The Father of Modern Vaccines")'s Timeline

February 10, 1897
September 8, 1985
Age 88