The study of endocrinology began in China. The Chinese were isolating sex and pituitary hormones from human urine and using them for medicinal purposes by 200 BC. They used many complex methods, such as sublimation.  Eventually, when Berthold noted that castrated cockerels did not develop combs and wattles or exhibit overtly male behaviour, European endocrinology began (however, it should be noted that the Chinese anticipated the science by over 1500 years.)  He found that replacement of testes back into the abdominal cavity of the same bird or another castrated bird resulted in normal behavioural and morphological development, and he concluded (erroneously) that the testes secreted a substance that “conditioned” the blood that, in turn, acted on the body of the cockerel. In fact, one of two other things could have been true: that the testes modified or activated a constituent of the blood or that the testes removed an inhibitory factor from the blood. It was not proven that the testes released a substance that engenders male characteristics until it was shown that the extract of testes could replace their function in castrated animals. Pure, crystalline testosterone was isolated in 1935.
Although most of the relevant tissues and endocrine glands had been identified by early anatomists, a more humoral approach to understanding biological function and disease was favoured by classical thinkers such as Aristotle, Hippocrates, Lucretius, Celsus, and Galen, according to Freeman et al, and these theories held sway until the advent of germ theory, physiology, and organ basis of pathology in the 19th century.
In medieval Persia, Avicenna (980-1037) provided a detailed account on diabetes mellitus in The Canon of Medicine (c. 1025), “describing the abnormal appetite and the collapse of sexual functions and he documented the sweet taste of diabetic urine.” Like Aretaeus of Cappadocia before him, Avicenna recognized a primary and secondary diabetes. He also described diabetic gangrene, and treated diabetes using a mixture of lupine, trigonella (fenugreek), and zedoary seed, which produces a considerable reduction in the excretion of sugar, a treatment which is still prescribed in modern times. Avicenna also “described diabetes insipidus very precisely for the first time”, though it was later Johann Peter Frank (1745-1821) who first differentiated between diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus.
In the 12th century, Zayn al-Din al-Jurjani, another Muslim physician, provided the first description of Graves’ disease after noting the association of goitre and exophthalmos in his Thesaurus of the Shah of Khwarazm, the major medical dictionary of its time. Al-Jurjani also established an association between goitre and palpitation. The disease was later named after Irish doctor Robert James Graves, who described a case of goiter with exophthalmos in 1835. The German Karl Adolph von Basedow also independently reported the same constellation of symptoms in 1840, while earlier reports of the disease were also published by the Italians Giuseppe Flajani and Antonio Giuseppe Testa, in 1802 and 1810 respectively, and by the English physician Caleb Hillier Parry (a friend of Edward Jenner) in the late 18th century.
In 1902 Bayliss and Starling performed an experiment in which they observed that acid instilled into the duodenum caused the pancreas to begin secretion, even after they had removed all nervous connections between the two. The same response could be produced by injecting extract of jejunum mucosa into jugular vein, showing that some factor in the mucosa was responsible. They named this substance “secretin” and coined the term hormone for chemicals that act in this way.
Von Mering and Minkowski made the observation in 1889 that removing the pancreas surgically led to an increase in blood sugar, followed by a coma and eventual death-symptoms of diabetes mellitus. In 1922, Banting and Best realized that homogenizing the pancreas and injecting the derived extract reversed this condition. The hormone responsible, insulin, was not discovered until Frederick Sanger sequenced it in 1953.
Neurohormones were first identified by Otto Loewi in 1921. He incubated a frog’s heart (innervated with its vagus nerve attached) in a saline bath, and left in the solution for some time. The solution was then used to bathe a non-innervated second heart. If the vagus nerve on the first heart was stimulated, negative inotropic (beat amplitude) and chronotropic (beat rate) activity were seen in both hearts. This did not occur in either heart if the vagus nerve was stimulated. The vagus nerve was adding something to the saline solution. The effect could be blocked using atropine, a known inhibitor to heart vagal nerve stimulation. Clearly, something was being secreted by the vagus nerve and affecting the heart. The “vagusstuff” (as Loewi called it) causing the myotropic effects was later identified to be acetylcholine and norepinephrine. Loewi won the Nobel Prize for his discovery.
Recent work in endocrinology focuses on the molecular mechanisms responsible for triggering the effects of hormones. The first example of such work being done was in 1962 by Earl Sutherland. Sutherland investigated whether hormones enter cells to evoke action, or stayed outside of cells. He studied norepinephrine, which acts on the liver to convert glycogen into glucose via the activation of the phosphorylase enzyme. He homogenized the liver into a membrane fraction and soluble fraction (phosphorylase is soluble), added norepinephrine to the membrane fraction, extracted its soluble products, and added them to the first soluble fraction. Phosphorylase activated, indicating that norepinephrine’s target receptor was on the cell membrane, not located intracellularly. He later identified the compound as cyclic AMP (cAMP) and with his discovery created the concept of second-messenger-mediated pathways. He, like Loewi, won the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work in endocrinology.