Skip to Main Content

ACS News

C&EN Special Issue: 85th Anniversary Of The Priestley Medal - Volume 86, Number 14, April 7, 2008

1970: Max Tishler (1906–1989)

As a 12-year-old during the 1918 flu epidemic, Max Tishler worked for a drugstore in Boston delivering prescriptions. The suffering he witnessed made a lasting impression. He continued to work in the drugstore throughout his teens, eventually becoming a registered pharmacist. Yet when he entered Tufts University, he declared a major in English because of his love of verse and his desire to become a poet.

After a professor told Tishler he lacked writing ability, Tishler turned to science and graduated magna cum laude in chemistry in 1928. Armed with his degree, he set his sights on a career in medicine and entered Harvard University with a plan to take biochemistry courses before enrolling in medical school.

But Tishler could not ignore his interest in chemistry. Setting thoughts of becoming a physician aside, he obtained his doctorate in chemistry in 1934. After three more years at Harvard, first as a research associate and then as an instructor, he was persuaded by George W. Merck to join Merck & Co.

When Tishler began his work at Merck, industrial research laboratories offered little appeal to the research chemist. Most ground-breaking work was being done at universities, and working for a company was looked upon with some distaste. His first research assignment at Merck was to develop an economical process for producing large quantities of riboflavin (vitamin B-2), which permitted the first use of riboflavin to enrich white bread. In the 1940’s, he developed a process for the mass-production of cortisone.

Under Tishler’s continuing research and overall leadership, Merck chemists, biologists, and clinical investigators discovered, developed, and obtained regulatory approval for a series of drugs and vaccines that revolutionized the practice of medicine and health care throughout the world. Among these were many vitamins essential to life and growth; cortisone and other steroids; drugs such as chlorothiazide, hydrochlorothiazide, and methyldopa that are effective against high blood pressure and congestive heart failure; indomethacin, the first clinically important nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent; antidepressants; vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella; and animal health drugs such as the coccidiostat sulfaquinoxaline and the anthelmintic thiabendazole.

Tishler also led a microbiological group that developed fermentation processes for actinomycin D, vitamin B-12, streptomycin, and penicillin. Toward the end of his tenure, he was deeply involved in Merck’s enzyme research. He was president of the Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories in the U.K. from 1957 until January 1969, when he became Merck’s senior vice president for research and development.

Tishler retired from Merck in 1969, ending a 32-year career of remarkable scientific discovery and leadership. An unlikely candidate for conventional retirement, Tishler was convinced he had “a great deal more to give,” and opted to return to academia as a professor of chemistry at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., eventually becoming the chair of the department.

In addition to his industrial and academic pursuits, Tishler was an active American Chemical Society member. Serving as president in 1972, he encouraged the membership to be sensitive to the potential destruction of the environment as a by-product of technological progress. “Chemists and chemical engineers have a social responsibility to avoid polluting or destroying segments of the environment. … ACS must play a greater role in helping the nation achieve its basic human goals,” he declared.

In 1987, Tisher received the National Medal of Science from President Ronald Reagan, who described him as “a giant on the chemical scene these past 50 years.” Said Reagan, “The importance of Dr. Tishler’s specific contributions to the nation’s health can scarcely be exaggerated.”—Alicia Chambers

More On This Topic

  • 85th Anniversary of the Priestley Medal
  • Introduction
  • C&EN celebrates the American Chemical Society's highest honor
  • Priestley's Medals
  • The medals of the minister-scientist who discovered oxygen attest to his fame and infamy
  • The Priestley Medalists, 1923-2008
  • View a complete list of award recipients
  • Living History
  • These 12 Priestley Medal winners reflect on winning ACS's most coveted award
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society

Tools

Save/Share »

Login

Note

Our log-in process has changed. You need an ACS ID to access member-only content.


Username:

Password:

Questions or Problems?

Adjust text size:

A- A+

Articles By Topic

More On This Topic

  • 85th Anniversary of the Priestley Medal
  • Introduction
  • C&EN celebrates the American Chemical Society's highest honor
  • Priestley's Medals
  • The medals of the minister-scientist who discovered oxygen attest to his fame and infamy
  • The Priestley Medalists, 1923-2008
  • View a complete list of award recipients
  • Living History
  • These 12 Priestley Medal winners reflect on winning ACS's most coveted award