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Yandell Henderson

Yandell Henderson (Photo: Rutgers Alcohol Studies Archive)

Yandell Henderson (1873-1944) was a brilliant scientist best known for his works with respiration and circulation rather than alcoholism. However, his contributions to the field of alcoholism through his works with Howard W. Haggard were extremely significant.

Henderson was important to the development of the field of physiology. He introduced a new revival method from carbon monoxide and improved gas masks worn in WWI. Despite his time spent in Germany and his love for the German people, Henderson worked for the U.S. military through the war and served in the Spanish American war on the U.S.S. Yale.


Yandell Henderson was born in Louisville, KY in April 23rd of 1873. As a child, he attended Chennault’s school in Louisville before moving onto Yale University to continue his education. He graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in 1895 and continued on to earn his Doctorate in 1898 in physiological chemistry. Following his graduation, Henderson moved abroad to Germany to continue his studies at the University of Marburg. In Germany, he worked closely with both Albrecht Kossel and Karl Voit.

In 1900, Henderson returned to Yale as an instructor in the Medical School. He was married to Mary Gardner Colby in 1903 and they had two children. Henderson became a Professor in 1911. In this same year, he helped organize the Anglo-American Pikes Peak Expedition with J.S. Haldane at Oxford University. This voyage sparked his interest in high altitude physiology and blood changes with acclimation.

On May 21, 1915, the Times published the first of a series of articles by Henderson which urged the American public not to adopt an anti-German stance. He was very much against the war with Germany. However, he was employed by the U.S. government and helped to improve the gas masks worn by the Allied forces. He serves as the chief of the medical section of the United States war gas investigations which were conducted by the Bureau of Mines. Henderson also served as the chairman of the Medical Board for the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. He helped to develop a series of tests designed to study the limits of pilots.

Following 1920, Henderson refocused and became a Professor of Applied Physiology. His work with Haggard and Coburn helped identify uses of carbon dioxide including eliminating anesthetic and preventing post-op illness. He also helped invent the H&H Inhalator but did not patent the creation. His work on the Henderson-Haggard technique helped to stimulate breathing in newborns.

Henderson’s testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee in 1932 was supporting a modification of the Volstead Act that would permit the sale of 3.2% beer. This testimony was significant beyond the issue that alcoholic beverages had not been legally available for sale for the last 15 years. With the onset of the Great Depression, the government was hesitant to continue to uphold its stance position against all alcoholic beverages. Also, there was a push to control the sales of liquor by legalizing it. Henderson seemed an odd choice for this case as his work had focused primarily on respiration thus far.

A person was deemed intoxicated when they could no longer operate a motor vehicle safely. Along these guidelines, Henderson argued that a person would have to consume between 2-3 quarts of beer to consume as much alcohol as 4 cocktails. His position as a well-recognized Yale professor and rhetoric skills helped him compete in a field where he knew little more than the average person.

Henderson retired and became a Professor Emeritus in 1938. Soon after his wife passed away, Henderson too died of intestinal difficulties. He was succeeded by his two children.

Career Highlights

1873    Born April 23rd in Louisville, KY     
1895    Graduates with a B.A. from Yale University        
1898    Earns his Yale in physiological chemistry        
1899    Travels to the University of Marburg, studying under Albrecht Kossel; Works with Karl Voit in Munich        
1900    Returns to Yale as an instructor in Physiology at the Medical School       
1903    Marries Mary Gardner Colby of Newton Center, MA on April 2nd       
1911    Becomes Professor of Physiology; Helps organize the Anglo-American Pikes Peak Expedition with J.S. Haldane of Oxford University       
1914    Serves as chief of the medical section of the United States war gas investigations conducted by the Bureau of Mines; Improves gas masks used by Allied forces       
1915    May 21st, Times publishes Henderson’s letter against the rising tide of anti-German sentiment and the nation’s seeming drift toward war with Germany       
1917    Serves as chairman of the Medical Board, Aviation Section, Signal Corps       
1920    Becomes Professor of Applied Physiology at Yale; Transfers laboratory out of Medical school; Identifies use of carbon dioxide as a means of eliminating anesthetic and preventing post-op illness       
1922    Invents but does not patent the H&H Inhalator which was used by rescue crews of the Consolidated Gas Company       
1928    Henderson-Haggard technique is first used to stimulate breathing in newborns       
1932    Testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee that 4% beer is virtually non-intoxicating       
1938    Becomes Professor of Physiology Emeritus at Yale       
1943    Wife Mary dies      
1944    Dies February 18th in La Jolla, CA of an intestinal ailment

Selected Publications

Yandell Henderson argued that alcohol was a poison but still a normal part of daily life. He suggested that it had much akin with carbon monoxide.

From the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives