James B. Sumner

Banquet speech

James B. Sumner’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1946

Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am a plain man, just out of the laboratory, leaving my test tubes behind me. It is impossible for me to express our gratitude and our appreciation for the great honor which has been bestowed upon us today; nor can we thank you sufficiently for the gracious hospitality which has been extended to us.

I am both proud and happy to be associated with Dr. Northrop and with Dr. Stanley in this year’s award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, since I have, for a long time, admired the work of these two men.

Having learned to know and to love your beautiful country through the good fortune of making two previous extended visits, I am delighted to be able to be here again, even for a short period of time.

We American scientists appreciate the unique characteristics of the Nobel Prize awards, which are restricted neither by international frontiers, time, race, nor sex. We appreciate the wisdom of Alfred Nobel in founding the institution which bears his name. We realize fully the stimulus which this foundation gives to scientific research all over the world.

I thank you.

Prior to the speech, Sigurd Curman, President of the Royal Academy of Sciences, made this comment: “This year’s three prize-winners in chemistry: Professor James B. Sumner, Dr. John H. Northrop and Dr. W.M. Stanley, have all been rewarded for their epoch-making investigations into two groups of substances which play an important, if invisible, part in the existence of living organisms and which, on account of their different actions, we might well call ‘the promoters of life’ and ‘the enemies of life’. These are substances whose influence was previously known – enzymes and viruses. It is only now, through the efforts of the Nobel prize-winners, that they have been isolated and purified so that they can be produced in crystalline form. A more profound study of these mysterious substances, which are situated, so to speak, on the threshold of life, between living and dead matter, has thus been possible, They have a tremendous influence on the human organism, the enzymes as conveyors and regulators of the vital processes of the entire human body, and the viruses as disseminators of a number of the diseases most dangerous to mankind, such as smallpox, yellow-fever, infantile paralysis, influenza and so on. It is probable that this new knowledge as to the nature of the viruses will lead to the discovery of effective methods of fighting these scourges of humanity.

When we now offer you our congratulations, Gentlemen, we consider that we have every reason to call you, all three, ‘promoters of life’.”

From Les Prix Nobel en 1946, Editor Arne Holmberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1947

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1946

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