you picture an old-fashioned gray house on an elm shaded street in a little
middle western city? Then, can you go inside and find yourself in a. quaint
old home into which the sound of a jangling telephone has never entered?
you imagine your host, a delightfully entertaining elderly man, interested in
anything which has to do with dairying?
you can do these things, then you can, in imagination, visit with us the man
who has made, it possible for dairy farmer? To lie paid for quality products,
and to build up high producing herds.
We mean of course, Dr. Stephen Moulton Babcock.
he was 85 his last birthday, there is not a happier spirit in all Madison. Wisconsin,
than this tall man with his snow white hair and merry laugh-and it is probably
his cheery laugh that, upon meeting,' you would notice first. Even today he
has more zest for living and more interest in things about him than most folks
who have lived only a fourth of his years.
with this happy old man, it is hard to realize that he was the author of the
test that revolutionized the dairy industry and that he has carried on ever
so many other investigations that have made our modern dairying possible.
of us take so much for granted, in our everyday life, the things that he has
made possible that we can hardly appreciate what they have done for us. It,
seems almost impossible to believe, in this age of scientific cheese-making,
that Doctor Babcock did the first scientific work on the ripening of cheese.
He had gone to Cornell University to study chemistry, and, although his scientific
work was outstanding, he was not satisfied.
in everything that lie does is one of the doctor's most distinguishing traits,
and he was not able to learn all that he wanted to know about, chemistry at
Cornell, so he left his experimental work and went to Germany to study for three
years with several great German scientists. When he came back, he had a doctor's
degree in chemistry and a burning desire to put, all his learning to practical
a time, he worked as an instructor at Cornell, but he was destined for a higher
post, and soon became the chief chemist of the New York experiment station at.
Geneva. Although much of his work there was done with other scientists interested
in better ways of feeding animals, he also picked up again the work in dairy
chemistry which later was to make him famous wherever dairying is followed.
There, along with his other work, he devised a simple way of analyzing what
is in milk and his method was adopted as a standard by official chemists of
the. United States.
1889, Doctor Babcock accepted the same kind of a. position in Wisconsin that
he had in New York, chief chemist of the Wisconsin experiment station. The next
year was one, of the most, outstanding of all this great man's career, for it,
was at that time that he became assistant director of the Wisconsin station
and worked out the butterfat test which bears his name. Can you imagine a. dairy
world where it was only possible for scientists to find out the amount of fat
in milk and then only by working carefully in their laboratories? Where creameries
had no basis for determining the value of the milk received from their different
customers? And where milk was paid for only by weight, or by measure? That is
just what dairy farmers were putting up with in 1889 before Doctor Babcock helped
associate or co-operative creameries were comparatively new. At first the dairy
farmers had been anxious to patronize these new plants because butter making
was irksome and expensive in the average dairy home. It seemed like a fine way
out of a lot of work and worry to deliver the milk to the creamery and let the
creamery man do the worrying.
the farmers soon realized that, after weighing, each man's milk was poured into
a common vat and then it was all alike. Of course, under such a plan no distinction
could be made between the patrons who delivered milk which contained 3 percent
fat and those whose milk contained 5 percent fat, for the creamery man could
not conduct the scientist's elaborate test. The result was that the patrons
whose cows gave rich milk began leaving the creameries and going back to skimming
the milk on the farm in spite of the extra work it brought on them. It is even
said that some went so far as to skim off some of the butterfat before delivering
the milk, and others added a water bucket to their dairy equipment.
was these conditions that made Dean Henry, then director of the station, go
to his dairy chemist and say, "Doctor Babcock, we must have a simple test
Babcock probably was astounded. This was not the first time the problem had
been discussed. Many other scientists had gone out. on a similar research and
come back empty handed. But, after the dean had explained the seriousness of
the situation, the doctor reflected a while and then said, "I believe I
can modify the Soxhlet ether method so that it can be used by the creameries
for measuring the fat of milk." And, at, once, he took up the problem which
had baffled so many others.
months he worked away with his test tubes trying to improve first this man's
methods then that, and gathering suggestions from each of them.
day he thought, he had a test. His new test gave the, same results as the older
more complicated ones that the scientists had been using. Time and again he
tried it on the milk of the cows in the university herd and each time the new
test checked with the old-until lie came to Sylvia.
was only a grade Shorthorn, but, Sylvia was "different." Her milk
did not test, like the oilier cows'. The readings on the new test did not correspond
to the readings on the old.
"Give out the test anyway," his co-workers urged the doctor.
was only one cow in a. herd of 30, and a test that proved correct that often
would help the dairymen, they reasoned.
the doctor could not see their point of view. No test was going out under his
name that did not work on all of the cows of the university herd. So, lie went
back to his laboratories to work until he had a. test that, was accurate even
for Sylvia's milk. Finally, after working some weeks more, lie walked into Dean
Henry's office, holding one of his test tubes in his hand.
I have it at last," he said.
even then lie could hardly believe that the test would go unchanged.
fully expected that the markings on the tubes would be changed," he told
us. But in all the years since he first walked in to his dean's office with
his test, tube, not a single thing has been changed except, the means of applying
power with which to turn the centrifuge.
When it was certain that the test was accurate, these two, the inventor and his friend the dean, were face to face with the problem of marketing the tester. Doctor Babcock would have to take out a patent.
the doctor declared, "this patent shall be given to the world for anyone
to use without, payment or hindrance of any kind." And so it was decided.
Without hesitation, quibble, or question, he gave up the chance to make millions
that the dairy industry might, benefit, from what the public had given him the
opportunity to do.
all over the world soon recognized the value of the test and began using it.
New Zealand was the first, country to adopt, it, officially, the doctor told
us as he showed the beautifully decorated testimonial of appreciation that the
dairymen of this far-off island country sent him.
enough, it was some time before the test was officially adopted in the United
States, and even then it was not, without considerable reluctance and bickering.
Even at the Columbian exposition in 1893, the Holstein owners withdrew their
animals because the officials planned to use the Babcock test, Doctor Babcock
recalled in describing those early days when only a few farmers realized the
value of his test. The Holstein owners, however, were the first breed to adopt
it for advanced registry, the doctor now tells with a whole lot of satisfaction.
The other breed associations in turn followed suit until it became recognized
as a rock bottom foundation upon which to build a profitable dairy industry.
years, Doctor Babcock has been receiving tokens of appreciation from all over
the world. From the dairymen of New South Wales and Victoria, Australia, came
an oil painting of a hillside of their dairy country that has a place of honor
in the simple homelike living-room in which we visited the doctor; from the
Paris and St. Louis world fairs came the "grand prize; "and from the
Wisconsin legislature came a bronze medal made by Spinx and Sons, London, which
the doctor has since learned is ''probably the largest one ever cast in a single
the doctor is never satisfied to rest on his past achievements. Doing things
is so much fun, for him, that he could not, sit idle while others were working.
In spite of all his duties as chemist of the experiment, station and as assistant,
director, five years after his test was given to the world, he announced a method
of separating the casein from milk and devised a mathematical formula for determining
the yield of cheese from a given amount of milk.
he began working with the younger men who were then coming to the Wisconsin
college. Doctor Babcock and H. L. Russell, then a young bacteriologist, now
dean of the college, studying to find what it was that caused cheese to "break
down," hit, upon a method of curing cheese that has made it possible to
make our finest quality of cheese.
discovery was not thought out, like the butterfat test. It was purely a chance
find, but the use they made of it shows the ability of these two men to put
their science to practical uses for the benefit of dairying.
then, cheese had always been cured in a. fairly warm room with no attempt at
controlling the temperature except to keep it from becoming overheated in summer.
Cheesemakers knew that the cheese would become too strong if it was cured in
a very warm room and they thought it would be bitter if the room was too cold.
Doctor Babcock and Professor Russell started on their work, they wanted to know
what happened to the cheese to make it become digestible. In the course of their
experiments, they put a cheese in a room that was at almost a freezing temperature.
Like the cheesemakers, they expected that it would be bitter when the cheese
came out, but they were anxious to know it' it would "break down"
at that temperature.
after some months, they took the cheese out of the cold room, it looked most
unappetizing, for it wag covered with long, hairy mold. But, when they cut it
they both reported, "It is the finest cheese we ever tasted." From
this they figured that possibly American cheese makers could produce a better
quality cheese if they cured it at a lower temperature. As one trial was not
enough they experimented with several batches of cheese until they found that
a temperature of from 50 to 60 degrees was most satisfactory and that dipping
the cheese in paraffin was an easy way to prevent, the moldy covering. Again
the people of New Zealand were the first, to accept the recommendations of these
two scientists for using the new "cold storage method," and today,
New Zealand is dotted with co-operative cold storage plants owned by several
Doctor Babcock's contributions to the science of dairying bulk large, what lie
has done cannot, be measured only by his scientific gifts. His influence has
spread into all parts of his college, for lie has been intensely interested
in what those about him were doing, not only the professors and instructors,
but students as well.
professor or instructor ever went to Babcock for help of any kind that he was
not welcomed and aided if possible, whether the matter was personal or professional,"
writes Dean Henry. "Do you wonder that the whole agricultural faculty now,
as always, reveres Doctor Babcock? Do you wonder that I still hold him as my
dearest earthly friend?"
in spite of his many honors, the doctor is still shy, keeping out of the limelight
as much as he can. Nor, at 85, is he willing to concede that his life's work
is done. Daily, he goes back and forth between his laboratory and his home.
He claims that lie goes to get his mail but those who work with him say that
lie is still experimenting, looking for the answer to a new problem. When he
finds it, he will probably announce, as he did when he was sure of his fat test,
"Well, I have it," and so add another to the list of things he has
given to the world.
A. W. Hopkins is now professor of agricultural journalism at the University of Wisconsin. He was born and reared on a Wisconsin farm and was graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1903. All his life he 'has been in close touch with the work and accomplishments of Dr. Babcock and we feel that he is the individual to give us the. close-up picture of this Master Mind of Dairying.