Biographical / Historical
Harold F. Pierce (1889-1963) received his degree from Clark University in 1912, having previously served in the Navy. He then worked in the electrical engineering and testing laboratory of the General Electric Company. After entering academia, he was an instructor of chemistry at Dartmouth College and transferred to Harvard Medical School.
When the United States entered World War I, Pierce was working on gas mask technology for the Bureau of Mines. In 1917, he joined the American Expeditionary Forces, U.S. Army Air Service, Sanitary Corps in World War I as a flight surgeon. During his time in service, Pierce helped to develop the Henderson-Pierce rebreathing apparatus, based on his prewar work with Yale University's Professor Yandell Henderson. He was instrumental in establishing medical research laboratories, first at Hazelhurst Field, Mineola, Long Island, and then in France at the 2nd Aviation Instruction Center, Tours, and the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudun.
After leaving the military in 1919, Pierce continued his studies and work with rebreathing equipment at Oxford University as a tutor and demonstrator of physiology, including involvement with British Mount Everest reconnaissance expeditions. In 1922, he earned a BSc (OXON) Degree in pathology.
He returned to the United States to serve as Associate Physiologist at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, earning his Ph.D. in colloidal chemistry in 1927. From 1927 to 1935, he served as Associate Professor of research ophthalmology at Wilmer Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland. (He had served with founder William H. Wilmer in WWI.) In 1935, he received his M.D. and served as Assistant Resident in medicine at Bellevue Hospital, New York City. He also assisted in the design of the capsule for the Explorer II manned high-altitude balloon launch.
Pierce rejoined the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942 serving as a flight surgeon and altitude physiologist at the School of Aviation Medicine, Randolph Field, Texas. In 1945, he was transferred to the Avon Old Farms Convalescent Hospital in his home state of Connecticut.
After World War II, Pierce served as medical director of the Connecticut State Welfare Department and as a consultant in aero-physiology at Hartford Hospital until retiring in 1960. He is recognized as a pioneer in the field of aviation medicine.