Samuel Natelson

Born: February 28, 1909 | Brooklyn, NY
Died: March 31, 2001 | Houston, TX, US

Samuel Natelson discusses his upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, having earned his BS in chemistry at the City College of New York and his ScM and PhD at New York University. While beginning his academic career at Girls Commercial High School, Natelson also worked as a clinical chemist at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn, where he first conceived the idea of a society by and for clinical chemists. Eventually, Natelson became a pioneer in the field of clinical chemistry, organizing the nine charter members of the American Association of Clinical Chemists, acting as a consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and later still pursuing a career as an educator. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0166
No. of pages: 42
Minutes: 132

Interview Sessions

James G. Traynham
26 February 1998
Knoxville, Tennessee

Abstract of Interview

Samuel Natelson begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and childhood in Brooklyn, New York. He attended City College of New York and received his BS in chemistry in 1928. As a graduate student, Natelson attended New York University, receiving a ScM in 1930 and his PhD in 1931. After receiving his PhD, he began his career teaching at Girls Commercial High School. While maintaining his teaching position, Natelson joined the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn in 1933. Working as a clinical chemist for Jewish Hospital, Natelson first conceived of the idea of a society by and for clinical chemists. Natelson worked to organize the nine charter members of the American Association of Clinical Chemists, which formally began in 1948. A pioneer in the field of clinical chemistry, Samuel Natelson became a role model for the clinical chemist. Natelson developed the usage of microtechniques in clinical chemistry. During this period, he served as a consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the 1960s, helping analyze the effect of weightless atmospheres on astronauts' blood. Natelson spent his later career as chair of the biochemistry department at Michael Reese Hospital and as a lecturer at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He then became an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine. Natelson concludes his interview with thoughts on the future of clinical chemistry and reflections on his career and family. 


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1928 City College of New York BS Chemistry
1930 New York University ScM Chemistry
1931 New York University PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

New York University

1928 to 1931

New York Testing Lab

1931 to 1932
Research Chemist in-Charge

Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn

1933 to 1949
Research Biochemist

Brooklyn College

1947 to 1949
1957 to 1965

Rockford Memorial Hospital

1949 to 1957
Chair, Department of Biochemistry

St. Vincent's Hospital

1957 to 1958
Chair, Department of Biochemistry

Roosevelt Hospital

1958 to 1965
Chair, Department of Biochemistry

New York Polyclinical Medical School and Hospital

1962 to 1965

Michael Reese Hospital

1965 to 1979
Chair, Department of Biochemistry

Illinois Institute of Technology

1971 to 1979

University of Tennessee

1979 to 1999
Adjunct Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine


Year(s) Award

Van Slyke Award in Clinical Chemistry


Ames Award, American Association of Clinical Chemists


Science Award, Illinois Clinical Lab Associates


Chicago Clinical Chemistry Award

Table of Contents

Early Years

Attending high school. Family background. Interest in chemistry. Starting college. Decision to attend graduate school.

Graduate Education and Early Career

Majoring in organic chemistry. Working with Professor Joseph B. Niederl. Patent on making rose oil. Teaching high school. Shift from career in industrial chemistry to clinical chemistry.

Career as Clinical Chemist

Starting at Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn. Working on cancer treatments. Going to Rockford Memorial Hospital.

American Association of Clinical Chemists

Organizing clinical chemists. Decision to elect Harry Sobotka as first president. Organizational differences. Position as Head of Nominating Committee. Desire to advance the position of clinical chemists. Abolishment of fellow status. Role of pathologists.

Later Career

Developing microtechniques. Working with NASA. Years at Rockford Memorial Hospital. Reflections on playing baseball. Need for role models in clinical chemistry. Working at St. Vincent's Hospital and Michael Reese Hospital.

Final Thoughts

Receiving adjunct professorship at College of Veterinary Medicine. Discussion on the future of clinical chemistry. Reflections on career and family.


About the Interviewer

James G. Traynham

James G. Traynham is a professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. He holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University. He joined Louisiana State University in 1953 and served as chemistry department chairperson from 1968 to 1973. He was chairman of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1988 and is currently councilor of the Baton Rouge section of the American Chemical Society. He was a member of the American Chemical Society’s Joint-Board Council on Chemistry and Public Affairs, as well as a member of the Society’s Committees on Science, Chemical Education, and Organic Chemistry Nomenclature. He has written over 90 publications, including a book on organic nomenclature and a book on the history of organic chemistry.