Guide to the Papers of Joseph B. Koepfli, 1930-1983

Processed by Charlotte E. Erwin.
California Institute of Technology
1200 East California Blvd.
Mail Code 015A-74
Pasadena, CA 91125
Phone: (626) 395-2704
Fax: (626) 793-8756
© 2003
California Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.

Guide to the Papers of Joseph B. Koepfli, 1930-1983

Collection number: Consult repository


California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California

Contact Information:

  • Archives
  • California Institute of Technology
  • 1200 East California Blvd.
  • Mail Code 015A-74
  • Pasadena, CA 91125
  • Phone: (626) 395-2704
  • Fax: (626) 793-8756
  • Email:
  • URL:
    Processed by:
    Charlotte E. Erwin
    Date Completed:
    September 2000
    Encoded by:
    Anne Simms and Francisco Medina
© 2003 California Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Joseph B. Koepfli papers,
Date (inclusive): 1930-1983
Collection number: Consult repository
Creator: Koepfli, Joseph Blake
Extent: 1.25 linear ft.
Repository: California Institute of Technology. Archives.
Pasadena, California 91125
Abstract: Joseph B. Koepfli (b. 1904) was research associate in chemistry at Caltech from 1932 to 1971. His field of study was organic chemistry, principally alkaloids and other physiologically active substances such as adrenalin and insulin. He was trained in pharmacology and during World War II worked on developing antimalarial drugs. Koepfli's papers document a portion of his chemical research as well as his role as a science adviser to the U.S. State Department.
Language: English.

Administrative Information


The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

Publication Rights

Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item, box and file number], Papers of Joseph B. Koepfli. Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Acquisition Information

The original donation of the Koepfli papers by Dr. Koepfli in January 1987 comprises the first one and one-half boxes of the collection. A second donation was made by Dr. Koepfli through the Chemistry Division in August 2000. The two donations were not integrated; the second was added on to the collection, beginning with Box 2, file 6.


Joseph Blake Koepfli was born February 5, 1904, in Los Angeles. His father, Joseph Otto Koepfli (b. 1866), was a prominent businessman and lawyer in Los Angeles. The family was of Swiss extraction on the father's side, and Norwegian on the mother's, and consequently they spent much time traveling in Europe in the years between Joseph's birth and World War I. Joseph and his sister Hortense were privately educated. Eventually Joseph was sent to the Harvard School in Los Angeles. He then attended Stanford University, where he majored in chemistry (BA 1924, MA 1925). In 1925 he enrolled at Oxford and subsequently received his PhD in chemistry there in 1928.
Koepfli returned to the US to take up a fellowship at Caltech for the year 1928-1929. As an organic chemist, his interests were mainly in natural products such as alkaloids, which were physiologically active. Beginning in January 1930, Koepfli began working under John J. Able at Johns Hopkins University. Able was renowned for his isolation of, first, adrenalin, and later, insulin. Koepfli's work with him centered on the posterior pituitary, and he was appointed instructor in pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. By 1932, Koepfli had returned to Caltech to accept a position as research associate because, according to his own memoir, he did not like teaching. He worked principally in plant hormones and collaborated with Dr. Seeley W. Mudd on cancer research. He also patented, with Linus Pauling and Dan Campbell, a blood substitute called oxypoly gelatin.
With the beginning of World War II, Koepfli was requested to work on antimalarial drugs. After the war (1948) he was invited by the Department of State to serve for a year as a foreign service reserve officer and scientific attaché in London. Upon returning to Caltech he was again called to government service in the State Department as a science advisor. He continued to keep ties with Washington in various advisory capacities, including connections with NATO, the first President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) under Eisenhower, and UNESCO.
Joseph Koepfli retired from Caltech in 1971.

Scope and Content of Collection

The original portion of the collection relates mainly to Dr. Koepfli's involvement with government agencies. One file on Linus Pauling was closed until Dr. Pauling's death in 1994. The second group of materials, beginning at Box 2, file 6, concerns principally Koepfli's work on the antimalarial plant Dichroa febrifuga. Of particular interest are the lab notebooks of his graduate student collaborators and the correspondence with them and with chemists at Eli Lilly and Company. The bulk of the papers fall into the date span of the 1940s - 1950s.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection.
Koepfli, Joseph Blake
California Institute of Technology
Chemistry, organic

Related Collections

  • Joseph B. Koepfli Oral History with Elizabeth Hodes (1985)
  • Caltech Archives Historical Files




Department of State

Box 1, Folder 1

International Resources Division 1947; Scientific Officer, US Embassy, London 1947-1948; early science attachés 1944-1945


Science and Technology

Box 1, Folder 2


Box 1, Folder 3


Box 1, Folder 4

1945-1951 [printed matter only]


North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

Box 1, Folder 5


Box 1, Folder 6



President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC)

Box 1, Folder 7


Box 1, Folder 8


Box 1, Folder 9

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 1960, 1964-1968

Box 1, Folder 10

National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Committee on International Organizations and Programs (ACIOP) 1962-1967

Box 2, Folder 1

Linus Pauling 1950-1983

Box 2, Folder 2

H. P. Robertson Memorial Lecture 1962-1966


Printed Material

Box 2, Folder 3

Korean War; germ warfare 1953

Box 2, Folder 4

McCarthy period (State Department)

Box 2, Folder 5

Reprints by Koepfli; Koepfli and others


Miscellaneous lab notebooks

Box 2, Folder 6

Rauwolfia caffra, preliminary experiments 1930-1931

Box 2, Folder 7

Indole synthesis [1940s?]

Box 2, Folder 8

Research problems [includes indole experiments] 1939-1942


Dichroa febrifuga research (antimalarial research)

Box 3, Folders 1-3

Lab notebooks of Brockman, Mead, Moffat, Phillips 1947-1952

Physical Description: [3 notebooks]
Box 3, Folder 4

Reprints 1947-1950

Box 3, Folder 5

Manuscript, "Procedure for isolating alkaloids from Dichroa febrifuga"n.d.

Box 3, Folder 6

Report, USPHS Antimalarial Grant 1947



Box 3, Folder 7

Brockman, John 1948-1950

Box 3, Folder 8

Chen, K. K. (Eli Lilly) 1947-1951

Box 3, Folder 9

Mead, James F. 1948

Box 3, Folder 10

Moffat, James 1950-1952

Box 3, Folder 11

Phillips, Robert 1951-1953

Box 3, Folder 12



Chou, T. Q. 1949


Coatney, Robert 1950


Fiske, H. H. (Eli Lilly) 1949-1950


Schmidt, L. H. 1949-1951


Van Tamelen, E. E. 1956