Herbert Tabor

Born: November 28, 1918 | New York , NY, US

Herbert Tabor begins his interview discussing growing up during the Depression in Manhattan, New York,. After spending two years at City College, he transferred to Harvard University, where he graduated with an AB in biochemical science in 1937. He earned his MD then entered the Public Health Service of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studying electrolyte changes in burn and shock victims. Tabor also discusses his work on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0110
No. of pages: 106
Minutes: 452

Interview Sessions

James J. Bohning
3 April 1993
National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

Abstract of Interview

Herbert Tabor begins this interview with a discussion of his family and childhood. He grew up during the Depression in Manhattan, New York, and attended local public schools before becoming a student at City College in 1933. After spending two years at City College, he transferred to Harvard University, where he graduated with an AB in biochemical science in 1937. He earned his MD in 1941. While at Harvard, Tabor was influenced by several of his professors to pursue biochemistry rather than move into a clinical discipline. In 1942, Tabor began an internship at New Haven Hospital, where he was exposed to aspects of both clinical and biochemical medicine. After his internship at New Haven Hospital ended in 1943, Tabor entered the Public Health Service of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and worked closely with Dr. Sanford M. Rosenthal, then head of pharmacology at the NIH. Tabor and Dr. Rosenthal studied electrolyte changes in burns and shock and determined how to treat burn and shock victims using saline instead of plasma. This research proved extremely important during World War II, when there was little or no plasma available. While with the Public Health Service, Tabor was assigned to be a medical officer of one of the US Coast Guard cutters. He made three round trips to Scotland and North Africa providing medical care. In 1961, Tabor joined the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC). Later, he advanced to associate editor before becoming editor in chief in 1971, a position he still holds today. While with the JBC, Tabor developed the Minireview Compendium, which is a yearly compilation of all short reviews published in the JBC for a particular year. Tabor discusses the importance of computer technology in advancing the usage and availability of the JBC in today's world. Tabor concludes the interview with a discussion on the future of the JBC and electronic journal availability.


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1937 Harvard University AB Biochemical Sciences
1941 Harvard University MD

Professional Experience

Harvard University

1941 to 1942
Researcher, Department of Biological Chemistry

Yale University School of Medicine

1942 to 1943
Intern in medicince, New Haven Hospital

US Public Health Service

1943 to 1983
Commissioned Officer
US Marine Hospital and US Coast Guard

National Institutes of Health

Staff Member, Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
1962 to 2017
Chief, Laboratory of Biochemial Pharmacology, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Journal of Biological Chemistry

1961 to 1966
Editorial Board
1968 to 1971
Associate Editor
1971 to 2005


Year(s) Award

Ninth Annual Arthur S. Flemming Award


Meritorious Service Medal, US Public Health Service


Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences


Member, National Academy of Science


Co-recipient, Hillebrand Prize, American Chemical Society


Co-recipient, Rose Award of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Table of Contents

Childhood and Family

Growing up in Manhattan, New York. Interest in science sparked by classic books. Attending high school. Post high school interest in science and medicine.

College and Graduate Education

Attending City College of New York. Meeting Arthur Kornberg. Effect of the Depression. Transferring to Harvard University. Anti-Semitism and discrimination. Senior thesis with Robert E. Johnson. Interest in biochemistry.

Harvard Medical School

Environment of the 1930s. Influence of A. Baird Hastings. Biochemistry. Physical Chemistry department. John T. Edsall. Enzymatic studies. Clinical medicine. Working in Dr. Hastings' lab.


Influence of World War II. Internship at New Haven Hospital. Working with Jim Hopper. Entrance into the US Public Health Service. Serving on Coast Guard Cutter Duane. Origins of penicillin. Arthur Kornberg.

Career Beginnings

Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Motivation for career choice. Development of the NIH. Move to Bethesda, Maryland. Extramural program. Commissioned Officer system. Beginning shock and burn work with Sanford Rosenthal.


Sanford Rosenthal. Study of hemorrhagic shock in mice. Experimental work with Arthur Kornberg. Explosion of biomedical sciences. Financial support for research. Development of spectrometer usage. Publishing results of research. Papers with Hastings, Rosenthal, Kornberg, and Ralph D. Lillie. Enzymology. Celia White Tabor. Spermine research.

Later Career

Becoming Chief of Laboratory of Biological Pharmacology. Directing laboratory work. Chromatography. Retiring from the Commissioned Corps. Function and direction of the NIH.

Journal of Biological Chemistry

Continuing work in laboratory. Function of the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC). Process for publication of manuscript. Minireview Compendium. History of JBC. Role of computers. Using CD-ROM version of JBC. Page charges. Quality of submissions.


About the Interviewer

James J. Bohning

James J. Bohning was professor emeritus of chemistry at Wilkes University, where he had been a faculty member from 1959 to 1990. He served there as chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1986 and environmental science department chair from 1987 to 1990. Bohning was chair of the American Chemical Society’s Division of the History of Chemistry in 1986; he received the division’s Outstanding Paper Award in 1989 and presented more than forty papers at national meetings of the society. Bohning was on the advisory committee of the society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program from its inception in 1992 through 2001 and is currently a consultant to the committee. He developed the oral history program of the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and he was CHF’s director of oral history from 1990 to 1995. From 1995 to 1998, Bohning was a science writer for the News Service group of the American Chemical Society. In May 2005, he received the Joseph Priestley Service Award from the Susquehanna Valley Section of the American Chemical Society.  Bohning passed away in September 2011.