Hans Selye


compiled by Csaba Petővári


Hans Selye was highly cultured with a wide intellectual horizon. The idea of „stress” is inseparable from his name. He was a versatile person and a magnetic, charismatic lecturer. His outstanding scientific achievement was internationally recognized.

He created publicity for the optimum stress level in everyday life. This fact excelled from his scholarly efforts. Selye wasn’t purely a scientist, but he specialized also on dissemination of the sciences. He addressed common men with his books and statements in an interesting way and bright expression.


Hans Selye was born on 26 January 1907, in Vienna, Austria, from Hungarian father and Austrian mother. His grandfather and great grandfather were family doctors in Vágselye. His father dr. Hugo Selye was a military surgeon, serving in the army of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. At the beginning of the twentieth century he saw active service in Vienna. He served in the garrison of Komárom at the end of world War I., where he started his medical practice thereafter. When retired, he moved to Budapest, where – according to records – his wife died after being hit by a bullet in the Revolution of 1956.

Selye completed his elementary and secondary schools in Komárom. He was notable for his gift for languages already as a grammar-school student. He spoke six languages. The secondary school and the Hungarian University, that can be found in the northern part of Komárom (Komarno) in Slovakia, is now named after Selye.

Hans Selye began his medical studies at the German University in Prague in 1924. He attended several semesters in Paris and Rome and graduated at the University of Prague in 1929. Hans Selye chose a career of a researcher instead of practice contrasted with his father.

He began his researches at Experimental Pathology Institute in Prague. He took his doctorate at Prague University. He became a Doctor of Medicine in 1929 and Doctor of Chemical in 1931. He was an assistant in experimental Pathology there for three years.

He worked at the Department of Biochemical Hygiene of John Hopkins University in Baltimore when he awarded Rockefeller Research Fellowship in 1931. Next year he got the fellowship again and moved to the McGill University of Montreal and worked there as a biochemist lecturer, then an assistant professor. He was appointed assistant professor of biochemistry in 1934, then in histology in 1937.  In 1942 he attained the degree of Doctor of Sciences.

He turned his attention to the research of stress in 1936. His first publication about stress was issued in Nature in 1936. He dealt with the pathology of cardiac infarction from 1956 onwards.

From 1945 to 1977 he directed of Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery at the Montreal French University (Institut de Medicine et de Chirurgie Experimentale). He remained active after he retired as founder president of the International Institute of Stress.

He died far from his native country in Montreal on 15 October 1982.


He was honorary professor of 18 universities, member of the Royal Society of Canada, honorary member of further 43 scientific societies. Honorary citizen of several cities and countries, had received numerous high ranking awards and distinctions. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize over 10 years, but he didn’t get it, maybe because he tried to explain a wide range of diseases with his stress theory, covering too extensive medical fields.


He published more than 1700 scientific papers and 40 books.