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E. M. Jellinek

E. M. Jellinek outside
E. M. Jellinek (Photo: Rutgers Alcohol Studies Archive)

Elvin Morton (E. M.) Jellinek  (1890–1963) has been described as “a key figure in the emergence of ‘a new scientific approach to alcohol’ in post-Repeal America” by Dr. Ron Roizen, alcohol historian, and as “the Renaissance Man who brought alcohol studies out of the Dark Ages” by Dr. Thomas Babor, Editor-in-Chief of JSAD (2015-2023), recipient of the Jellinek Memorial Award in 2005.

Jellinek’s influence and legacy can be seen throughout the Center of Alcohol Studies, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, and the Summer School of Alcohol Studies. Although Jellinek left Yale before the Center moved to Rutgers in 1962, “his ideas and legacy were very much alive and shaped the Center’s goals,” as longtime Director (1980-2011) of the Summer School of Alcohol Studies Dr. Gail Milgram observed.

In the words of former Director of the Center Dr. Robert Pandina, “Mystery man or pioneer––either way, the field will always remain indebted to his forward thinking.”

This page is a tribute to E. M. Jellinek, originally created by the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies Library in 2015 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of his birth, complementing the Special Issue of the Information Services Newsletter, dedicated to Jellinek.


A short biosketch of E. M. Jellinek should begin with the fact that no comprehensive biography has been written about him, despite several efforts. His pre-1930s life is not well documented, although new data about his time in Hungary have recently been uncovered.

Jellinek was born in New York City on August 15th, 1890. His mother, Rose Jacobson, was an opera singer with a stage name of Marcella Lindh. Shortly after his birth, his father, Marcell Jellinek, moved his family to Budapest, Hungary to take over the family transport business. Growing up in an affluent and well-educated family in Budapest during the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Jellinek was surrounded by an exciting intellectual and artistic culture. While his formal educational credentials are yet to be verified, he showed early scholarly interest in biostatistics, philosophy, philology, anthropology, theology, languages, and linguistics.

At the beginning of his scholarly career, Jellinek wrote book reviews in Hungarian, starting in 1912. His first book, A saru eredete [The origin of shoes], was published in 1917. Before he became known as an alcohol science scholar in the United States, Jellinek was involved in various practical and scholarly endeavors related to multiple disciplines, although there are significant gaps in his biography from 1920 to 1931. Myths and legends surround his involvement in extralegal currency speculation in Hungary in 1920, his subsequent ten-year self-exile under a pseudonym, and his reappearance in the United States. Jellinek is said to have spent time in Sierra Leone and Honduras as a biostatistician during this decade.

Jellinek’s life is fairly well-documented after he relocated to the United States. From 1931 to 1938, Jellinek conducted research on schizophrenia at the Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts. In 1939, Jellinek joined the Research Council on Problems of Alcohol as Executive Director of a project reviewing literature on the effect of alcohol on the individual, funded by the Carnegie Corporation. The project was continued at Yale University under the auspices of the Laboratory of Applied Physiology. The result of this review became known as the Classified Abstract Archive of the Alcohol Literature (CAAAL).

Jellinek was elected to the editorial board of the newly established Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol on February 26, 1941, and became associate and managing editor in 1942. In 1943, he became the first director of the Summer School of Alcohol Studies, the model of alcohol education and training programs in the United States, and in 1944 established the Yale Plan Clinics, the model treatment facility for alcohol patients. After leaving New Haven, CT in 1948, Jellinek established the Yale Institute of Alcohol Studies in the Southwest at Texas Christian University, a short-lived endeavor.

By 1951, Jellinek was employed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, where he served as a consultant on the Alcoholism Subcommittee of the Expert Committee on Mental Health and later as secretary general of the International Institute for Research on Problems of Alcohol. By the late 1950s, he had relocated to Canada, working as a consultant for the Alcoholism Foundation of Alberta and the Alcoholism Research Foundation of Ontario.

Following his consulting work, Jellinek was sponsored by the Christopher D. Smithers Foundation to write his highly influential book, The Disease Concept of Alcoholism, published in 1960.

On October 22, 1963, while working on the Encyclopedia of Problems of Alcohol as a senior staff member for the Cooperative Commission on the Study of Alcoholism, Jellinek suffered a fatal heart attack in his office.

Career Highlights 

1890    Born August 15th in New York, NY            
1908    Studies biostatistics and physiology at the University of Berlin*            
1911    Studies philosophy, philology, anthropology, and theology at the University of Grenoble; Studies languages, linguistics, and cultural history at University of Leipzig*            
1912    Publishes his first article, a book review in Hungarian            
1917    Publishes his first book, The origin of shoes, in Hungarian            
1920    Leaves Hungary due to his involvement in extralegal currency exchange            
192?    Works in plant research in Sierra Leone*            
1925    Works as biometrician for United Fruit Co. in Honduras*            
1928    Publishes studies on bananas under the alias A. N. Hartman            
1931    Works as chief biometrician studying neuroendocrine research for Worchester State Hospital in Massachusetts            
1939    Commissioned to conduct a study of scientific literature on the effect of alcohol on the individual for the Research Council on Problems of Alcohol, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation            
1941    Begins alcohol research at Yale Laboratory of Applied Physiology as Associate Professor of Applied Physiology            
1941    Elected to the board of editors of the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol            
1942    Appointed managing/associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol; publishes Alcohol addiction and chronic alcoholism; edits The effect of alcohol on the individual; Writes Alcohol explored with Dr. H.W. Haggard            
1943    Begins as director of the Section of Studies on Alcohol (later named Center of Alcohol Studies) and Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies            
1944    Establishes the Yale Plan Clinics; launches the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) with Marty Mann            
1946    Publishes on placebo effect            
1948    Establishes the Yale Institute of Alcohol Studies in the Southwest at Texas Christian University.            
1950    Retires as director; retires as professor            
1951    Serves as a consultant on alcoholism for the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland; develops a formula estimating the rate of alcoholism            
1952    Publishes The phases of alcohol addiction            
1955    Retires from WHO; begins as secretary general of the International Institute for Research on Problems of Alcohol            
1957    Begins a worldwide survey of the progress being made in alcoholism control, under the auspices of the Christopher D. Smithers Foundation            
1959    Works as a consultant for the Alcoholism Foundation of Alberta            
1960    Publishes The Disease Concept of Alcoholism; acts as consultant for the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario in Toronto and with medical students at University of Alberta in Edmonton            
1961    Takes a position at the Cooperative Commission on the Study of Alcoholism at Stanford University, funded by the National Institute on Mental Health            
1963    Dies October 22 in Palo Alto, CA while working on the Encyclopedia of Problems of Alcohol (nicknamed “Project X”)

*yet to be verified 


Cover art
Photo: Rutgers Alcohol Studies Archive

Because Jellinek wrote for both scholarly and popular audiences on multiple topics, it is incredibly challenging to compile a complete bibliography of his works. The last one had been published in a volume edited by Robert Popham, entitled Alcohol and alcoholism: Papers presented at the International Symposium in memory of E.M. Jellinek, Santiago, Chile (1970).

Building partly on an unpublished 1966 list created by the CAAAL bibliographers, the Center of Alcohol Studies Library compiled the most comprehensive version of Jellinek's bibliography, and published it in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs in 2016.

A word of advice from alcohol historian Griffith Edwards while reading Jellinek:

“His own writings were often more cautious in tone than the absolute interpretations put upon them by those who read him carelessly,             
or who wanted to make him the high priest of the disease definition of what counts as the problem with alcohol.” 

- Alcohol: The Ambiguous Molecule by Griffith Edwards (p. 98) 

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Additional Resources

From the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives