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Our History


The history of publishing at The Rockefeller University begins with Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM) in 1902. The Rockefeller Institute of Medicine had been founded the year before, and the president of the Board of Scientific Directors was William Welch. Welch was the founder of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he launched the JEM in 1896. From its inception, Welch edited the journal by himself—even editing manuscripts while attending baseball games—but he eventually found that it placed too heavy a burden on his time.

The editorial burden became so great by March 1902 that Welch stopped publishing papers and began stockpiling manuscripts and unanswered correspondence in his office, explaining the conspicuous absence of published papers from 1902 to 1904. In October of that year, he appealed to the board of The Rockefeller Institute to take over the journal. This they did, "to the mingled chagrin and relief” of the administration at Johns Hopkins (Corner, 1964). The transfer of ownership and publication responsibilities required the physical transfer of manuscripts from Welch’s office, which fell to the director of The Rockefeller Institute, Simon Flexner, who carried the abandoned manuscripts from Baltimore to New York in a suitcase.

The first issue of the JEM published by The Rockefeller Institute appeared in February 1905, with Flexner serving as editor, and the journal has been published regularly since then. Although the journal was adopted by The Rockefeller Institute to serve as a venue for publication of internal research, it also accepted submissions from outside. Even in the early years, more than half of the papers published in the journal were from external labs.

The Publications Department

In 1910, Flexner formally established The Rockefeller Institute Publications Department. In addition to publishing the JEM, the department published bound volumes of papers from the Institute, entitled "Studies from The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research." In 1914, the Publications Department took over The Journal of Biological Chemistry, which had been founded at Columbia University nine years earlier, and published it until 1925. It was then turned over to the American Society of Biological Chemists (later renamed the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology [ASBMB]), where it remains today.

Journal of General Physiology

In 1910, Jacques Loeb arrived at The Rockefeller Institute to pursue his research on the physico-chemico mechanisms underlying cellular phenomena. Loeb was at a loss for a venue to publish his work after a dispute with the American Journal of Physiology. In 1918, he founded Journal of General Physiology (JGP) with the expressed purpose of publishing papers "relating to the physico-chemical explanation of life phenomena, no matter in what field of science they originate" (Andersen, 2005). The JGP has been published continuously by Rockefeller ever since. From an early emphasis on enzyme kinetics, the JGP currently has a strong focus on ion channel physiology using electrophysiological techniques.

The Publications Division

With its expanded portfolio, the Publications Department was redesignated as the Publications Division in 1919 under the direction of Edith Campbell, who had been Simon Flexner’s secretary. In addition to its journal-publishing responsibilities, the Division served as a publications services provider for the faculty at The Rockefeller Institute, including secretarial services and proofreading, until 1940.

The Journal of Clinical Investigation

In 1921, Dr. Rufus Cole, a clinical researcher at The Rockefeller Institute, proposed to the Institute’s board that they establish a journal to publish clinical research studies as a companion to the JEM, which primarily published basic science. Cole and his colleagues at the American Society of Clinical Investigation were frustrated by the slow publication times of the existing journals that published clinical studies, the Archives of Internal Medicine and The American Journal of the Medical Sciences.

Cole hoped that Rockefeller would establish and publish such a journal because, he wrote, "It is believed by a considerable number of the members of this Society that it should have an independent journal for the publication of its contributions. Experience, however, has shown that the best results are not obtained by placing scientific journals in the control of societies, with their changing staffs of officers and shifting ideals. The establishment of a clinical journal by The Rockefeller Institute, it is believed, would meet the needs of the Society for Clinical Investigation" (Brainard, 1959). By 1924, Rockefeller had agreed to subsidize, but not publish, this journal. In October of that year, the first issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) was published by the Society, despite Cole’s misgivings. The Rockefeller Institute provided financial subsidies for the journal until 1936.

The Rockefeller University Press later published the JCI on a contract basis from 1967 to 1999, at which time the Society once again took on the function of publisher.

Journal of Cell Biology

In the early 1950s, a small group of biologists began to explore intracellular anatomy using the emerging technology of electron microscopy. Many of these researchers were at The Rockefeller Institute. As their work progressed to publication, they were disappointed with the limited quality of halftone image reproduction in the printed journals of the time and frustrated by the narrow editorial policies of existing journals regarding their image-based results. In 1954, the director of the Institute, Detlev Bronk, convened a luncheon to discuss the creation of a new journal as a venue for publication of this type of work.

The first issue of The Journal of Biophysical and Biochemical Cytology was published less than a year later on January 25, 1955. The editors included Richard S. Bear, H. Stanley Bennett, Albert L. Lehninger, George E. Palade, Keith R. Porter, Francis O. Schmitt, Franz Schrader, and Arnold M. Seligman. The instructions to authors described the scope of the journal: "The Journal of Biophysical and Biochemical Cytology is designed to provide a common medium for the publication of morphological, biophysical, and biochemical investigations on cells, their components, and their products. It will give special attention to reports on cellular organization at the colloidal and molecular levels and to studies integrating cytological information derived from various technical approaches." Recognizing that they needed a catchier title, the editors changed the name to Journal of Cell Biology (JCB) in 1962.

The Journal of Lipid Research

In 1958 Edward H. (Pete) Ahrens, Donald Zilversmit, and colleagues at The Rockefeller Institute received a grant from the NIH to publish a handbook of lipid research methods. They were quickly convinced by other colleagues at the Institute to create a high-quality publication, and they formed a nonprofit organization, Lipid Research, Inc., that would own the journal with the mission of keeping it "in the hands of research workers" (Eder, 1984). The Journal of Lipid Research was contract published by The Rockefeller Institute Press from its inception in October 1959 until 1971, when the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB) took over the publishing contract. In 2000, the ASBMB took over publishing responsibilities, and in 2003, Lipid Research, Inc. handed over ownership of the journal to the ASBMB.

Biophysical Journal

The Biophysical Journal was created by the Biophysical Society in 1960 with Frank Brink of The Rockefeller Institute as its first editor. The journal was contract published by The Rockefeller Institute Press from its inception until 1993, when the Society began self-publication.

The Rockefeller Institute Press

The Rockefeller Institute Press was created from the Publications Division in 1958 by then president Detlev Bronk. The impetus for this change is unclear, but it may have been the publication of the first book by the Press, which was a collection of papers entitled "The Atmosphere and the Sea in Motion," published in conjunction with Oxford University Press in 1959. The Press has published a total of 62 books mostly focused on biomedical research but also including works on environmental science, public policy, and art history.

The Institute was redesignated The Rockefeller University in 1965, and the Press became The Rockefeller University Press (RUP).

Online publication and public access

Our three journals were first published online in 1997. News content has always been free to the public immediately upon publication. In 2001, RUP began to make primary research content free to the public six months after publication (Mellman, 2001). By 2003, all of the archival content back to volume 1, issue 1 of each of the journals was posted online. In 2004, RUP developed the RGB standard for publication of color images (Rossner and O’Donnell, 2004). In 2007, the Press began to deposit all of its content in PubMed Central, where it is available to the public six months after publication (Hill, 2007). In 2008, the Press changed its copyright policy to allow authors to retain copyright of their own work and to allow third parties to reuse content under a Creative Commons license (Hill and Rossner, 2008). In 2016 an Open Access option was introduced for authors of primary research.

Image data integrity

In 2002, the three journals published by RUP adopted completely electronic production workflows. This means that all text is submitted as electronic document files and all figures are submitted as electronic image files. While formatting figure files for an accepted manuscript a Western blot was discovered in which the intensity of a single band had been selectively adjusted relative to the other bands.

The original data were obtained from the authors, and it was evident that the manipulation affected the interpretation of the data. The editorial acceptance of the manuscript was revoked, and RUP immediately initiated an image-screening policy that requires all images in all accepted papers to be screened for evidence of image manipulation (Rossner, 2002)


Andersen, O.S. 2005. A brief history of The Journal of General Physiology. J. Gen. Physiol. 125:3–12. Full Text

Brainard, E.R. 1959. History of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, 1924–1959. I. Personnel and policies. J. Clin. Invest. 38:1865–1872. Full Text

Corner, G.W. 1964. A History of The Rockefeller Institute 1901–1953: Origins and Growth. The Rockefeller Institute Press, New York. 635 pp.

Eder, H.A. 1984. History of the Journal of Lipid Research. J. Lipid Res. 25:1425–1429. Full Text (PDF)

Hill, E. 2007. JCB content automatically deposited in PubMed Central (PMC). J. Cell Biol. 179:9.Full Text

Hill, E., and M. Rossner. 2008. You wrote it; you own it! J. Cell Biol. 181:405–406. Full Text

Mellman, I. 2001. Cell biology’s journal gets a new look. J. Cell Biol. 154:9. Full Text

Porter, K.R., and H.S. Bennett. 1981. Introduction: recollections on the beginnings of The Journal of Cell Biology. J. Cell Biol. 91(Suppl.):vii–ix. Full Text (PDF)

Rossner, M. 2002. Figure manipulation: assessing what is acceptable. J. Cell Biol. 158:1151. Full Text

Rossner, M., and R. O’Donnell,. 2004. The JCB will let your data shine in RGB. J. Cell Biol. 164:11–13. Full Text

This page has been adapted from Wikipedia entries for The Journal of Experimental Medicine and The Journal of Cell Biology.

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