Gram, Hans Christian Joachim

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Gram, Hans Christian Joachim

(b. Copenhagen, Denmark, 13 September 1853; d. Copenhagen, 14 November 1938)

biology, medicine.

Gram was the son of Frederik Terkel Julius Gram, a professor of jurisprudence, and Louise Christiane Roulund. He early took up studies in the natural sciences. After receiving a B.A. from the Copenhagen Metropolitan School (1871), he became an assistant in botany (1873–1874) to the zoologist Japetus Steenstrup. But he soon developed an interest in medicine, and in 1878 he obtained the M.D. from the University of Copenhagen. In the following years he was an assistant in various Copenhagen hospitals and in 1882 received, the gold medal for a university essay concerning the number and size of human erythrocytes in chlorotics. The following year he defended at Copenhagen his doctoral thesis on the size of the human erythrocytes.

From 1883 to 1885 Gram traveled’ in Europe, studying pharmacology and bacteriology; in 1884, while working with Friedländer in Berlin, he published his famous microbiological staining method. Gram experimented with staining pneumococci bacteria by modifying Ehrlich’s alkaline aniline solutions. Gram stained his preparations with aniline gentian violet, adding Lugol’s solution for from one to three minutes. When he then removed the nonspecific attributed stain with absolute alcohol, certain bacteria (pneumococci, for example) retained the color (gram-positive microbes, as was later done by Weigert.

Gram spent the next few years as a hospital assistant. In 1891 he was appointed professor of pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen, a position he maintained with inspiring diligence until 1900, although he had also become chief physician in internal medicne at the Royal Frederiks Hospital in 1892. Gram took great interest in the clinical education of young students; he was appointed ordinary professor (1900) and from 1902 to 1909 he published his fourvolume Klinisk-therapeutiske Forelaesninger, Which shows his interest in rational pharmacotherapy in clinical science.

In addition to his university post, Gram had a large private practice in internal medicine; and as chairman of the Pharmacopoeia Commission (1901–1921) he, cleared the field of many obsolete therapeutics. After his retirement in 1923 he resumed his former interest in the history of medicine.

Gram was made honorary member of Svenska Läkaresällskapet (1905), Verein für Innere Medizin (1907), and Dansk Selskab for Intern Medicin (1932). Kristiana University (now University of Oslo) awarded him the M.D, honoris causa in 1912; and the king awarded him the Dannebrog Commander’s Cross, first-class (1912) and the Golden Medal of Merit (1924).

Gram married Louise I. C. Lohse in 1889; she died eleven years later.


I. Original Works. A full catalog of Gram’s published writings is in O. Preisler, Bibliotheca medica danica, VII (Lyngby, 1919), 41; Index medicus danicus 1913–1927, II (Copenhagen, 1928), 370–371; and ibid., … 1928–1947 (printed index cards). His more important works include Blodet hos Klorotiske med Hensyn til Blodlegemernes Talog Størrelse hos Mennesket (Copenhagen, 1882); Undersøgelser over de røde Blodlegemers Størrelse hos Mennesket (Copenhagen, 1883); “Über die isolierte Färbung der Schizomyceten in Schnitt-und Trockenpräparaten, “in Fortschritte der Medizin, 2 (1884), 185; Laegemidlernes Egenskaber og Doser i Tableform (Copenhagen, 1897); and Klinisk-therapeutiske Forelaesninger for de Studerende, 4 vols, (Copenhagen. 1902–1909).

II. Secondary Literature. See p. Engelstoft, Danskbiografisk Lekiskon, VIII (1936), 251–252; s A Gammeltoft, Den farmakologiske Undervisnings Historie ved Københavns Universitet (Copenhagen, 1952), pp. 80–94; H. Okkels, Farvingstekniken i den mikroskopiske Anatomi (Copenhagen, 1947), pp. 48–49; C. Sonne, “Nekrolog,” in Acta medica scandinavica, 98 (1939), 441–443; and H.R. Zeuthen, Danske Farmakopeer indtil 1925 (Copenhagen, 1927), pp. 258–262.

E. Snorrason

Gram, Hans Christian Joachim (1853-1938)

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Gram, Hans Christian Joachim (1853-1938)

Danish pharmacologist

Hans Christian Joachim Gram was a Danish physician and bacteriologist who developed the most widely used method of staining bacterial cells for microscopic study.

Gram was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on September 13, 1853. He received a B.A. in the natural sciences from the Copenhagen Metropolitan School in 1871 and served as an assistant to the zoologist Japetus Steenstrup from 1873 to 1874. He subsequently became interested in medicine and earned a medical degree from the University of Copenhagen in 1878. Gram, who worked in several areas of science and medicine, earned a gold medal in 1882 for a study on human erythrocytes. The following year he received a doctoral degree for his work in this field.

After obtaining his degree, Gram pursued post-doctoral studies in Berlin, focusing on bacteriology and pharmacology. It was in Berlin in 1884 that he published his work on the technique of staining cells, a procedure that became widely known as Gram staining .

At that time, the method of staining cells was not entirely new to scientific research and several methods were already being used. Gram borrowed from a procedure initially devised by Paul Ehrlich , who used alkaline aniline solutions to stain bacteria cells. Experimenting with pneumococci bacteria, Gram first applied Gentian violet, which stained the cells purple, and then washed the cells with Lugol's solution (iodine), which served as a mordant to fix the dye. He followed those steps by applying alcohol, which washed away any dye that was not permanently fixed. Gram found that some cells remained purple (Gram positive), while others stayed essentially unstained (Gram negative). Gram's method aided microscopic study of bacteria, as well as provided a means of differentiating and classifying bacteria cells. Several years later, the pathologist Carl Weigart improved upon Gram's method by adding another staining step, which consisted in dyeing the Gram-negative cells with saffranine.

Gram remained in Berlin working as an assistant in a hospital until 1891, when he was appointed as a professor of pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen. In 1889, Gram married Louise I. C. Lohse, and in 1892, advanced to the position of chief of internal medicine at the Royal Frederiks Hospital. Extremely active in the field of medical education, Gram also maintained a large internal medicine practice. From 1901 to 1921, Gram served as chairman of the Pharmacopoeia Commission, during which time he abolished the use of many useless and obsolete therapeutic treatments. In addition, he published a four-volume book on the importance of rational pharmacology in clinical science. After his retirement in 1923, he returned to an earlier interest: the history of medicine. During his career, Gram received several honors including the Danneborg Commander's Cross, the Golden Medal of Merit, and an honorary M.D. Gram died in Copenhagen, on November 14, 1938.

See also Laboratory techniques in microbiology

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