Rats and Fats
Elmer McCollum (1879-1967)
The American home diet: an answer to the ever present question: What shall we have for dinner? (Detroit, Mathews, 1923)
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In 1907, Elmer McCollum, a biochemist at the University of Wisconsin, was assigned to research the chemical components of cow dung. Instead, he established the nation’s first scientific rat colony in the basement of his laboratory building – in secret, because the dean of his college thought rats were useless for research.
McCollum was interested in the relationship between fats and health. He gave some rats a fat-free diet and noticed that they developed sore eyes and infections. Other rats given plenty of fats were healthy. By 1914, McCollum had identified the substance lacking from the rats’ diet. He called it Fat Soluble Factor A: the first known vitamin.
McCollum went on to publish scientific studies on a host of other vitamins and minerals. He also wrote over 100 articles for McCall’s, a women’s magazine, and published numerous popular books on nutrition. Interestingly, he argued against the use of vitamin pills and supplements, instead advising varied diets of whole foods.