Joseph J. Kinyoun

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Joseph J. Kinyoun
Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun (6916215501).jpg
1st Director of the U.S. Hygienic Laboratory
In office
August 1887 – April 30, 1899
Succeeded byMilton J. Rosenau
Personal details
Born(1860-11-25)November 25, 1860
East Bend, North Carolina
DiedFebruary 14, 1919(1919-02-14) (aged 58)
Washington, D.C.
Resting placeCenterview Cemetery
38°45′01.8″N 93°50′38.7″W / 38.750500°N 93.844083°W / 38.750500; -93.844083 (Joseph J. Kinyoun burial site)
Alma materBellevue Medical College
Known for
  • Discovered a bacterium strain of Vibrio cholerae which causes cholera
  • Founder and first director of the U.S. Laboratory of Hygiene
Scientific career
FieldsBacteriology, Public health
InstitutionsMarine Hospital Service
George Washington University
InfluencesRobert Koch

Joseph James Kinyoun (November 25, 1860 – February 14, 1919) was an American physician and the founder of the United States' Hygienic Laboratory, the predecessor of the National Institutes of Health.[1]


Early life[edit]

Joseph James "Joe" Kinyoun was born November 25, 1860, in East Bend, North Carolina, the oldest of five children born to Elizabeth Ann Conrad and John Hendricks Kinyoun. His family settled in Post Oak, Missouri in 1866 after his house burned down during the Civil War. At the age of 16, he studied medicine with his father, John Hendricks Kinyoun, who was a general practitioner.[2] His family joined a Baptist church.[3]

Kinyoun was educated at St. Louis Medical College and graduated from Bellevue Medical College in 1882 with an M.D. degree. He did postdoctoral studies in pathology and bacteriology at the Carnegie Laboratory[4] where he became the first bacteriology student and studied cholera. Then he was a visiting scientist in Europe under Robert Koch. He was awarded a Ph.D. from Georgetown University in 1896.


On October 4, 1886, Kinyoun began his career in the Marine Hospital Service at Staten Island Quarantine Station as an assistant surgeon, taking over the direction of the Laboratory of Hygiene in 1887.[5] When the Surgeon General moved the laboratory from Staten Island to Washington, DC in 1891, he placed 26-year-old Kinyoun in charge of the nation's first federal bacteriology laboratory. His code name during his MHS career was Abutment.

Kinyoun's later career was spent in private companies and as a professor of bacteriology and pathology at George Washington University[4] before becoming a bacteriologist for the District of Columbia Health Department, a position he held until his death. In 1909, Kinyoun served as president of the American Society for Microbiology.

In 1915, he developed the Kinyoun stain, a procedure used to stain acid-fast bacteria. It was a variation of a method developed by Robert Koch in 1882.[6]

Kinyoun's microscope

Hygienic Laboratory (1887–1896)[edit]

As the director of the Hygienic Laboratory, he researched on a plethora of different infectious diseases and their respective etiology and vaccine treatment while urging necessary hospital protocols and regulations for isolation of infected patients.[7] Cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, and plague were the four main epidemic diseases that the laboratory investigated.

San Francisco Quarantine station[edit]

In 1899, Walter Wyman transferred Kinyoun to the San Francisco Quarantine station where he became head of the Marine Hospital Service in San Francisco. In March 1900 he was central to the discovery of the San Francisco plague of 1900–1904. He resigned his position in 1901 after allegations that his conclusive bubonic plague diagnoses were scaremongering. He was proven correct by independent testing and the appearance of further cases.

Marriage and children[edit]

James and Susan Elizabeth "Lizzie" Perry married in 1883. The couple had at least five children: Bettie Kinyoun; Joseph Perry Kinyoun; Alice Kinyoun Houts; Conrad Kinyoun; and John Nathan Kinyoun. After his first child, Bettie died at the age of 3 from contracting diphtheria, he poured himself into his work and even set up a public diphtheria laboratory at Georgetown Medical School.

Death and afterward[edit]

Joseph Kinyoun died on February 14, 1919, in Washington, DC.

A collection of his papers is held at the National Library of Medicine.[8]

San Francisco Plague[edit]

A political cartoon published in a Chinese-language daily paper in June 1900; epidemiologist Joseph J. Kinyoun being injected in the head with Waldemar Haffkine's experimental plague vaccine. Two other doctors appear to be developing buboes on their heads from the oversized inoculations. Federal judge William W. Morrow looks on.

A Japanese ship, the S.S. Nippon Maru, arriving in San Francisco Bay in June 1899, had two plague deaths at sea, and there were two more cases of stowaways found dead in the bay, with postmortem cultures proving they had the plague.[9] In New York in November 1899, the British ship J.W. Taylor brought three cases of plague from Brazil, but the cases were confined to the ship.[9] The Japanese freighter S.S. Nanyo Maru arrived in Port Townsend, Washington, on January 30, 1900, with 3 deaths out of 17 cases of confirmed plague.[9] In this atmosphere of grave danger, in January 1900, Kinyoun ordered all ships coming to San Francisco from China, Japan, Australia, and Hawaii to fly yellow flags to warn of possible plague on board.[10] Many entrepreneurs and sailing men felt that this was bad for business, and unfair to ships that were free of plague. City promoters were confident that plague could not take hold, and they were unhappy with what they saw as Kinyoun's high-handed abuse of authority.

In January 1900, the four-masted steamship S.S. Australia laid anchor in the Port of San Francisco.[10] The ship sailed between Honolulu and San Francisco regularly. Cargo from Honolulu unloaded at a dock near the outfall of Chinatown's sewers, may have allowed rats carrying the plague to leave the ship and transmit the infection. However, it is difficult to trace the infection to a single vessel.[11] Wherever it came from, the disease was soon established in the cramped Chinese ghetto neighborhood; a sudden increase in dead rats was observed as local rats became infected.[10]

Rumors of the plague's presence abounded in the city, quickly gaining the notice of authorities from MHS stationed on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, including Chief Kinyoun.[12][13][14]

On February 7, 1900, Wong Chut King, the owner of a lumber yard, died in his bed after suffering for four weeks. In the morning, the body was taken to a Chinese undertaker where it was examined by San Francisco police surgeon Frank P. Wilson on March 6, 1900. Wilson called for A.P. O'Brien, a city health department official, after finding suspiciously swollen lymph glands. Wilson and O'Brien then summoned Wilfred H. Kellogg, San Francisco's city bacteriologist, and the three men performed an autopsy as night closed. Looking through his microscope, Kellogg thought he saw plague bacilli.[10][15] Late at night, Kellogg ran the suspicious samples of lymph fluid to Angel Island to be tested on animals in Kinyoun's better-equipped laboratory - an operation that would take at least four days.[16]

On March 11, Kinyoun's lab presented its results. Two guinea pigs and one rat died after being exposed to samples from the first victim, proving the plague was indeed in Chinatown.[17][18] On March 13, another lab animal, a monkey, died, who was exposed to the plague. All the dead animals tested positive for the plague bacteria.[19]

Allied with powerful railroad and city business interests, California governor Henry Gage publicly denied the existence of any pestilent outbreak in San Francisco, fearing that any word of the bubonic plague's presence would deeply damage the city's and state's economy.[20] Supportive newspapers, such as the Call, the Chronicle and the Bulletin, echoed Gage's denials, beginning what was to become an intense defamation campaign against quarantine officer Kinyoun.[21]

In October 1900, Kinyoun was the subject of a political cartoon about his being kicked out of his federal position.

The clash between Gage and federal authorities intensified. U.S. Surgeon General Walter Wyman instructed Kinyoun to place Chinatown under a second quarantine, as well as blocking all East Asians from entering state borders. Wyman also instructed Kinyoun to inoculate all persons of Asian heritage in Chinatown, using an experimental vaccine developed by Waldemar Haffkine, one known to have severe side effects.[22]

Between 1901 and 1902, the plague outbreak continued to worsen. In a 1901 address to both houses of the California State Legislature, Gage accused federal authorities, particularly Kinyoun, of injecting plague bacteria into cadavers, falsifying evidence.[23] In response to what he said to be massive scaremongering by the MHS, Gage pushed a censorship bill to gag any media reports of plague infection. The bill failed in the California State Legislature, yet laws to gag reports amongst the medical community succeeded in the passage and were signed into law by the governor. Also, $100,000 was allocated to a public campaign led by Gage to deny the plague's existence.[20] Privately, however, Gage sent a special commission to Washington, D.C., consisting of Southern Pacific, newspaper and shipping lawyers to negotiate a settlement with the MHS, whereby the federal government would remove Kinyoun from San Francisco with the promise that the state would secretly cooperate with the MHS in stamping out the plague epidemic.[23]

Despite the secret agreement allowing for Kinyoun's removal, Gage went back on his promise of assisting federal authorities and continued to obstruct their efforts for study and quarantine.[20][24]

In his final speech, to the California State Legislature, in early January 1903, Gage blamed the federal government, in particular, Kinyoun, the MHS, and the San Francisco Board of Health for damaging the state's economy.[20][23]


The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Joseph J. Kinyoun Memorial Lecture is named in his honor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Birth of the Hygienic Laboratory". Origins of the National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. May 8, 1987.
  2. ^ "Kinyoun, John H. (1825-1903), Account Books, 1859-1898 (C3863)" (PDF). The State Historical Society of Missouri.
  3. ^ Joseph k. Houts, Jr (15 October 2021). Joseph James Kinyoun: Discoverer of Bubonic Plague in America and Father of the National Institutes of Health. ISBN 9781476682907.
  4. ^ a b Bing, Richard J. (2010). "The National Institutes of Health and Joseph J. Kinyoun" (PDF). Heart News and Views. Vol. 17, no. 3. International Society for Heart Research. p. 7.
  5. ^ Luiggi, Cristina (2011-05-28). "One-Man NIH, 1887". The Scientist.
  6. ^ Kinyoun JJ. 1915. A note on Uhlenhuths method for sputum examination, for tubercle bacilli. Am. J. Public Health 5:867–870.
  7. ^ Morens, David M.; Fauci, Anthony S. (2012-08-31). "The Forgotten Forefather: Joseph James Kinyoun and the Founding of the National Institutes of Health". mBio. 3 (4): e00139–12. doi:10.1128/mBio.00139-12. ISSN 2150-7511. PMC 3388889. PMID 22736540.
  8. ^ "Joseph J. Kinyoun Papers 1899-1939". National Library of Medicine.
  9. ^ a b c Link, Vernon B. (1955). "A History of Plague in the United States of America" (PDF). Public Health Monograph. 26: 1–11. PMID 14371919. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-21.
  10. ^ a b c d Chase, Marilyn (2004). The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco. Random House Digital. pp. 13–28. ISBN 978-0375757082.
  11. ^ Markel 2005, p. 224 Archived 2016-05-11 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "On The Plague in San Francisco". Journal of the American Medical Association. 36 (15): 1042. April 13, 1901. doi:10.1001/jama.1901.52470150038003. Archived from the original on May 7, 2016. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
  13. ^ "The Plague, American Medicine, and the Philadelphia Medical Journal.". Occidental Medical Times. 15: 171–179. 1901. Archived from the original on 2016-06-09. Retrieved 2015-12-26.
  14. ^ Marine Hospital Service, United States; Public Health Service, United States (1901). "Bubonic Plague at San Francisco, Cal". Annual Report of the Supervising Surgeon General of the Marine Hospital Service of the United States for the Fiscal Year 1901. U.S. Government Printing Office: 491.
  15. ^ Kellogg, Wilfred H. (1900). "The Bubonic Plague in San Francisco". Journal of the American Medical Association. 34 (20): 1235–1237. doi:10.1001/jama.1900.24610200021001g.
  16. ^ Shah 2001, p. 120
  17. ^ Markel, Howard (2005). When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America And the Fears They Have Unleashed. Random House Digital. ISBN 978-0375726026.
  18. ^ Montgomery, Douglass W. (1900). "The Plague in San Francisco". The Journal of the American Medical Association. 35 (2): 86–89. doi:10.1001/jama.1900.24620280022001f.
  19. ^ Gassaway, James M. (March 14, 1900). "A case of plague in San Francisco, Cal". Public Health Reports. 15 (11): 577–578. JSTOR 41455049.
  20. ^ a b c d Chase 2003, pp. 70, 72, 79–81, 85, 115, 119–122
  21. ^ Power, J. Gerard (April 1995). "Media Dependency, Bubonic Plague, and the Social Construction of the Chinese Other". Journal of Communication Inquiry. 19 (1): 89–110. doi:10.1177/019685999501900106. S2CID 145556040.
  22. ^ Trauner, Joan B. (Spring 1978). "The Chinese as Medical Scapegoats in San Francisco, 1870–1905". California History. 57 (1): 70–87. doi:10.2307/25157817. JSTOR 25157817.
  23. ^ a b c "Public Health Politics and the San Francisco Plague Epidemic of 1900–1904" (PDF). Mark Skubik, San Jose State University. 2002. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
  24. ^ California State Board of Health (1901), Report of the Special Health Commissioners Appointed by the Governor to Confer with the Federal Authorities at Washington Respecting the Alleged Existence of Bubonic Plague in California (1 ed.), Sacramento: Superintendent State Printing, archived from the original on 2016-05-04, retrieved 2015-12-26

External links[edit]

Government offices
New office Director of the Hygienic Laboratory
1887 – 1899
Succeeded by