University of Minnesota

Why a History? Why now?


The dramatic rise and fall of epidemic cardiovascular diseases in the last half of the twentieth century is unparalleled in the history of non-communicable disease. Recognition of the vagaries in the coronary epidemic particularly, and attempts by pioneering investigators to explain and reduce its burden, form a remarkable story not yet adequately told.


We are only two generations removed from the origins of CVD epidemiology and the abrupt awareness of the epidemic of heart attack in the late 1940s. It is time to ponder the common wisdom then, that heart attack was an inevitable consequence of aging, to consider the questions of those who recognized the epidemic and their unique efforts to address the mounting plague.

The expansive approaches taken by early investigators, who departed their familiar clinical and laboratory settings to search the societal origins of vascular diseases, inspires our interest today.

Thanks to the relative youth of the field and the longevity of its practitioners, we’ve had the opportunity to interview and to collect letters, journals, photographs and other research material from many of the pioneers in CVD epidemiology and prevention research. Here we tell the stories and share a legacy with their intellectual progeny, many of whom, we find, are unfamiliar with their own professional “roots.”

We deal mainly with those who first saw the epidemic nature of CVD, asked questions about its causes, and carried out studies among the people and populations contrasting in apparent risk. We trace the establishment of the risk factor paradigm that has served preventive practice and policy for several decades.

We follow the founding of the institutions and disciplines of CVD epidemiology and preventive cardiology; their contribution to understanding the broader “Epidemiologic Transition,” that fundamental shift in public health focus beyond infectious to chronic diseases.


This website, devoted to the history of prevention research, is a work in progress. It welcomes comments, corrections and contributions sent to: The site is supported on dedicated servers of the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota.

The primary sources for this website are in a physical and electronic archive of early documents and photographs housed in the Blackburn-Keys Collection on the History of Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology at the University Archives in the Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The archive contains collections of Ancel Keys’s, Henry Taylor’s, and Henry Blackburn’s personal and professional papers as well as early documentation of American Heart Association and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute activities. Please contact for more information about these holdings and access to them.