Elmer McCollum

BY: M.D. Munn

Elmer McCollumIT IS a long way from milking cows on a. Kansas farm to the scientific determination of why milk is man's most important food. Yet this distance is covered by the life and scientific achievements of Dr. E. V. McCollum, who is now only 51 years of age.

Elmer Verner McCollum was born on March 3, 1879, on a faun near Fort Scott, Kansas. The house was a. small stone structure built, by his father and later replaced by a wooden building. In this humble environment were spent the boyhood days of a. man whose scientific achievements and the practical application of them have had a greater influence than those of any other one man on the use of the foods essential for growth and body maintenance. During Dr. McCoIlum's boyhood he had the same duties to perform as have most farm boys. He states that: "From my earliest, recollections I always had work to do. The first obligation that I remember was bringing the cows and horses from the pasture. I was assigned the duty of keeping watch of the turkey hens to see where they laid their eggs. I learned to count by throwing three ears of corn to each pig in the pen, which necessitated first counting the pigs and then the corn. At the age of 71 began to learn to milk cows. First with a tin cup going around after the cows had been milked to collect, "strippings" and in general from that time on until the age of 17 I milked five or six cows morning and evening.

There was no end of jobs that I had to do. At the age of 11, I began working in the field and from that, time on I did practically a man's work. When I was 12 my father's health failed and my brother and I took entire charge of the farm operations."

Crop failures were frequent in the section of the country where Dr. McCollum spent, his boyhood days. In speaking of this he says: "The things which remain most vividly in my memory about our general life upon the farm relate to frequent crop failures. For several years I saw the corn dry up under hot winds which baked the soil and caused the. leaves to curl so that our hope of financial returns for the year was completely blasted. I have reflected many times upon the fortitude of the people in our neighborhood under such repeated disappointments. While disappointment was evident on such occasion and both men and women talked about the hardships of the farmer's life, there was always evidence of hope for the future and each year we started a. new crop full of optimism. We were the only farmers within a radius of six or eight miles who kept as many as 25 dairy cows. I can well remember their appearance. Probably half of them were unprofitable.

Nevertheless, the regular income from butter was our salvation financially so that we never suffered poverty."

This all sounds quite prosaic and yet one who has spent, his boyhood on a. farm knows it is far more than that. It is basic in this environment nature becomes a, part of life; habits of industry are formed: independence and character join hands. The brown and scarlet splendor of autumnal death impels contemplation and the joyous birth of spring inspires hope. One cannot listen long to Dr. McCoIlum's account, of his life as a boy and his methods of work as a scientist without realizing that his youthful environment and experiences exerted a pro- found influence in molding his character and coloring his outlook on life as well as developing habits of industry, patience, andclose observation so necessary to successful research.

Dr. McCollum was fortunate, as so many others have been, in having a mother with a fixed determination that her children should receive every educational advantage possible to give them. The illness of her husband threw all this responsibility upon her. When her son reached the age of 17 she concluded it was time for him to leave the farm and get an education. Up to this time, his. opportunities for this had been limited to the country district, school. In the autumn of 1896, young McCollum went to Lawrence, Kansas, where he had fully expected to enter the University of Kansas. He was dismayed to find that four years of high school work were a. necessary pre-requisite to entering the university.

In speaking of this period of his, life Dr. McCollum says: "I was not even qualified at this time to pass the technical examination necessary for entering high school. I was six feet, tall, weighed 122 pounds, and was exceedingly timid and self-conscious, and could not have brought, myself under any circumstances to enter a grade school in order to prepare for high school. When I went to the high school in Lawrence to talk about registration, Professor Frank H. Oiney looked me over and inquired about my academic record. I gave him most of the essential facts, and told him of some of the good books I had read, which included Martin's physiology, Whittier's "Snow-bound," and several other worthwhile books. Professor Oiney apparently sensed the condition I would be in if I failed to pass the examination and said lie would admit me without further question and ask for a report on my work at. the end of the first month. If this was satisfactory, nothing further would be said about my fitness. If it was not satisfactory, I would have to go back to the eighth grade.

Once in high school, I had no further difficulty and went thru the four-year course with a good record. I have frequently thought of how critical a time in my life was this conference with Professor Oiney. Had he adhered strictly to the rules, I am quite confident that I should have abandoned all effort at get- ting a higher education." 

Dr. McCollum was. obliged to earn enough during his high school and college days to pay his living expenses. His work varied from lighting and extinguishing gas lamps on the streets of Lawrence and selling newspapers to regular employment on the Lawrence Journal-World. This continued until his senior year at the university when an assistantship in the chemical laboratory relieved him from the necessity of outside work.

When he entered the university, Dr. McCollum expected to study medicine and did two years of pre-medical work as a part of his regular course. He then became so enthusiastic about organic chemistry that he decided to follow that. After completing his university course at Lawrence, he remained for one year of graduate work and during that, year assisted in several courses of chemical work, and left the university with a credit of 16 courses in chemistry, which was all the university could offer.

He then decided to go to Yale University for further graduate work in chemistry. He left, Lawrence, Kansas, in the fall of 904 traveling in second-class day coaches to New Haven and arrived there with $82 in cash and no visible means of securing other funds. He remained at. Yale for three years doing graduate work. receiving his degree of doctor of philosophy in 1906. His first, two years' work were under the direction of Dr. T. B. Johnson, professor of organic chemistry. His third year was spent with Professor LaFayette Mendel and Professor Russell H. Chittendon, who was then director of the Sheffield Scientific School. While at Yale he earned enough by tutoring to pay all his expenses and leave New Haven with $1,500. In 1907 Dr. McCollum went to the University of Wisconsin as an instructor. Here he remained until 1917 when he was called to Johns Hopkins University to take the professorship of biochemistry in the school of hygiene and public health of that institution. Dr. McCollum began his real life work at, Wisconsin with Professor E. B. Hart. At, that time Professor Hart had a number of experiments under way in which he was feeding farm animals specified diets for the purpose of determining what difference existed in the nutritive values of certain farm crops.

It was at this time that Dr. McCollum conceived the idea of using small animals to solve the problems of nutrition. With the simplest kind of homemade equipment, he finally succeeded in establishing a colony of what he calls "sanitary rats.'' It was necessary to develop rats that were free from disease or any conditions that would interfere with or impair the results sought by the use of varied diets.

In one of his early addresses Dr. McCollum stated: "The idea had long prevailed that the essential constituents in an adequate diet were protein, fat, carbohydrates such as starch and sugar, and certain inorganic salts. The attempts which had been made to nourish animals on such food mixtures, so made up as to lie of such a composition that they would pass the inspection of a chemist showed that, although these diets complied with all the requirements of the dietitian, they were not capable of maintaining life. . . . The early efforts which I made to secure growth in young animals fed mixtures of purified foodstuffs of the above character and in which everything in the diet, could be named, confirmed the experience of the foreign investigators in this field. It became evident to me at once that there was something necessary in the diet which had not been hitherto appreciated; and I began a systematic study of the cause of the failure of animals to thrive on these simple diets."

It is unnecessary and impossible to attempt, here to detail the numerous experiments and failures involved in Dr. McCollum's five years of experimental work between 1907 and 1912, during which time he made his first important discovery that all fats used in the diet are not of equal value.

It took nearly five years of experimental work on innumerable combinations of diets before Dr. McCollum finally demonstrated that a diet, would produce growth in young animals when butterfat was added to it, and that the same food mixture would not induce growth when lard, vegetable oils, and certain other fats and oils were used in place of butterfat. This was the first definite scientific determination that butterfat contains some element or principle essential to growth not found abundantly in any other food fat. He, therefore, concluded that there is some substance in butterfat which is not found in fats generally and which is absolutely necessary for the promotion of growth and the proper maintenance of life in the young and adult. During this period it was also determined that the fat in egg yolk and of the vital organs of animals produced similar effect on growth.

The discovery of the importance of this growth promoting principle of vitamin A in butterfat opened up a vast field of research as to the importance generally of milk in the diet of the human race. Leading nutrition scientists, following this lead, have done and are still doing a large amount of investigational work on the importance of milk and its products in the diet. As. a result it has been found that milk not only furnishes the most, available and abundant supply of vitamin A thru its butterfat content, but also contains in a lesser quantity the other vitamins as well as a very high quality of protein and an abundance of mineral matter, such as calcium and phosphorous, necessary for building bones and sound teeth in the young and their maintenance in adult life. 

The importance of Dr. McCollum's research work and discoveries have been recognized the world over. He is a member of many scientific societies and organizations and has received several medal awards in addition to the degrees lie has received from the Universities of Kansas, Yale, and Cincinnati. He has a world-wide reputation as a dietary authority and is the author of several works prominent among which is "The Newer Knowledge of Nutrition" published in 1918. This has gone thru foul-editions, the fourth one being published in 1929. It, is one of the most comprehensive and authoritative works on nutrition that has ever been published. In 1919 he published "The American Home Diet" and in 1925 "Food. Nutrition, and Health," which is being widely used.

In addition to opening this new field of research work, which has resulted in such valuable contributions to nutritional science on the importance of milk in the human diet. Dr. McCollum has been a. pioneer in helping to educate the public on the importance of milk in relation to health. On the entrance of this country into the World War, the Food Administration sent out appeals to the public to conserve fats, especially buttercream, and milk, in the interest of winning the war. 'Dr. McCollum saw the danger in this to the general health of the people of this country and especially the welfare of the children. He appeared before the Food Administration and presented information that he had obtained thru his research work as well as information which had come to him from other sections of the world, showing what, ailments followed the curtailment of the use of butter and whole milk in the diet. This resulted in a modification by the Food Administration of its position. Dr. McCollum then began delivering a series of addresses throughout the country. In an address delivered in the city of Chicago on April 13, 1918, before a large gathering of representatives of all branches of the dairy industry, he stated: "It is because I have become convinced that there are large groups of people in the United States today who are making serious mistakes in the selection of food, and because of an unwise tendency of the public to reduce its purchases of milk, that I have left my laboratory to talk to the women who are interested in home economics and to the women's clubs in the larger cities, urging them to do all in their power to increase the consumption of milk. I have done this entirely on my own initiative, and with-out consulting any of the dairy interests."

For several months he voluntarily spent, his time in speaking before home economics organizations, and various welfare groups, as well as, medical organizations, pointing out the dangers of a decreased use of milk and its products in the human diet.
Ever since 1918 Dr. McCollum has been an ardent, advocate of the liberal use of milk and its products in the human diet. In the interest of health and especially in the interest, of proper growth and health to children. This work has been done by him solely because his research work, as well as the research work of other nutritional scientists in this same field, have convinced him that milk and its products are indispensable to a. properly balanced diet.

Because it has been definitely established that the proper amount of milk in the diet will prevent certain human ailments by supplying essential food elements and principles deficient in many other foods, Dr. McCollum in 191S, characterized milk and its products as "protective foods." This term is now in general use by most dietitians. 

The fact that Dr. McCollum, in his numerous scientific papers in health journals, his published works, and numerous addresses before scientific, medical, dental, educational, and welfare organizations and associations has been an earnest advocate of the liberal use of milk in the diets of children as well as adults has made him the generally recognized and leading authority in the public mind on the reason why milk and its products are essential foods. Ever since he reached his first conclusion on the growth promoting principle of butterfat he has been conducting experimental work on the importance of the vitamins found in milk and other foods, which has resulted in a large fund of nutritional information on milk and its products, as well as many other foods. 

He has given unstintingly of his time in assisting those who are endeavoring to educate the public on the importance of proper diet and especially of the products of the dairy cow in relation to growth and health. 

Dr. McCollum is a most genial and pleasant, man to meet. His vast volume of information on nutrition, as well as many other scientific subjects, makes him most interesting to listen to. He has acquired a fund of information on the present and past which seems inexhaustible. He has a wonderful memory and once a fact is entered in his mind it becomes a fixture. Notwithstanding his accomplishments in the scientific world and his resulting contacts with leading scientists and educators, he still possesses the simple and delightful traits of character and habits of life of his youthful days. It is, indeed, a privilege and pleasure for one to know and talk with him. 

It seems quite remarkable that, while milk and its products have been extensively used as food thru all the known centuries of the past, beginning with the early tribes of people on the Aryan plains down thru the numerous races of many countries and throughout the rise and fall of several civilizations and it always has been common knowledge that, milk is the young infants only food and that if necessary human and animal life can be maintained over extensive periods of time on milk alone, it remained for a young man whose early life was spent on a. small farm m Kansas to make the first definite scientific determination of why milk is man's most essential food. While this contribution by Dr. McCollum was made to nutritional science it is and always will be the dairy industry's greatest asset. Notwithstanding the fact that many valuable contributions have been made by other leading dietary scientists regarding the importance of milk and its products in the diet, Dr. McCollum realized that these facts should be placed before the public in a way to be put into practice in daily life. He was a crusader and pioneer in launching a movement for better health that had and is continuing to have far-reaching results in the health and habits of the American people. His position as a. leading research scientist is unquestioned. He must also he accorded a place of high honor for his contribution to the betterment of American living.

M. D. Munn has long been a prominent figure in the dairy industry. As president mid a director of the American Jersey Cattle Club he was responsible to much of the progress of the breed. During the World War he, became, much interested in the work of Dr. McCollum and was charged by the industry with the responsibility of organizing the National Dairy Council to promote human health. For 11 years lie has guided the destiny of that organization and has seen it grow to the place where many consider it the most important health organization today. As the man who has done more than any other to carry Dr. McCollum's health story to the public it is fitting that he should be the author of tins story.

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