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Biography: Elmer V. McCollum

Elmer Verner McCollum was born near Fort Scott, Kansas in 1879. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Kansas (1903 and 1904, respectively). He received a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1906. McCollum was appointed as instructor, agricultural chemistry at the University of Wisconsin in 1907. He rose through the academic ranks becoming a professor in 1913. The Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health appointed McCollum as professor of biochemistry in 1917. He retired as professor emeritus in 1944. McCollum was a pioneer in the science of nutrition. He made his discovery of Vitamin A and Vitamin B1 during his tenure at the University of Wisconsin. While at Johns Hopkins University, he performed basic research in Vitamins D and E, tooth decay, and the study of trace minerals in plants. He published over 170 articles and books including “The Newer Knowledge of Nutrition” (1918) and “The History of Nutrition” (1957). McCollum served as president of the American Society of Biological Chemists (1927-1929), and was the member of numerous associations and societies including the Royal Society of London and the Royal Academy of Medicine, Belgium. He served on the International Committee on Vitamin Standards of League of Nations from 1931 to 1939, chaired the nutrition section of the Pan American Sanitary Conference (1939) and served as a member of the food and nutrition board of the National Research Council (1943). He was the recipient of many medals and awards, among them the Howard N. Potts gold medal from the Franklin Institute, 1921, the John Scott medal from the City of Philadelphia, 1924, and the Borden Award in Nutrition, 1945. McCollum was also awarded honorary degrees from the University of Cincinnati (Sc.D.), the University of Manitoba (LL.D.) and the Johns Hopkins University (LL.D.)

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Biography: Harry G. Day

Harry Day was born October 8, 1906 in Monroe County Iowa. He received his A.B. in Chemistry in 1930 from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. He received his Sc.D. in Biochemistry from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1933, where he worked with E.V. McCollum in the field of nutrition research. He was a National Research Council Fellow at Johns Hopkins from 1933 to 1934 and a General Education Board Fellow at Yale University until 1936, when he returned to Johns Hopkins as an Associate in Biochemistry. He left Hopkins in 1940 for Indiana University, where he rose from assistant professor in chemistry to associate professor in 1945 and full professor in 1950. He was department chair from 1952 to 1962, Associate Dean of Research and Advanced Studies from 1967 to 1972, and served in the Office of Research and Development from 1973 to his 1976 retirement.

Day’s research interests were in the field of nutrition. Day is best known as a co-discoverer with Joe C. Muhler and William H. Nebergall of stannous fluoride, the first fluoride additive used in toothpaste to combat tooth decay, approved for use in Crest toothpaste by the U.S. Food and Drug administration in 1955. He researched metabolism and nutritional requirements of trace inorganic elements, especially boron, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. He also was interested in the nature and synthesis of antagonists of vitamins and amino acids, the conversion of carotene to vitamin A in the bodies of animals, the health aspects of food ingredients, and principles of food safety. In his retirement Day gathered biographical materials and published numerous articles about his mentor, E.V. McCollum, with whom he had collaborated on numerous scientific publications, including The Newer Knowledge of Nutrition (5th edition, 1939).

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Scope and Content

The Elmer V. McCollum and Harry G. Day Collection comprises materials gathered together by Day in the process of writing what he hoped would be a definitive biography of his mentor, Elmer V. McCollum. The biography was part of a larger effort by Day to commemorate Elmer V. McCollum’s life and work which he considered a key component of the early history of nutrition research and nutrition science. Over time, Day came to feel that many researchers in the field did not know about the early history or about McCollum’s extensive contributions to the field. He was concerned that the knowledge of both that history and of important findings about nutrition had managed to escape widespread notice. Day wrote several shorter biographies of McCollum that were published in journals. Although he drafted several chapters of the manuscript, the book-length work was never published. While the majority of the collection materials pertain to the life and work of McCollum, including materials pertaining to his second wife, Ernestine McCollum, and his family life, there is also a group of Day’s own records.

The collection contains a variety of documents including publications by Day, McCollum, and others; articles and biographical memoirs about E. V. McCollum; bibliography pertaining to McCollum; people and subject files; professional and personal correspondence; papers; drafts of chapters of Day’s biography manuscript; awards; financial documents; McCollum’s notes, notebooks, and scrapbooks; clippings from newspapers, journals, and magazines; an extensive set of photographs; and audio tapes of interviews with McCollum.

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Additional Links

Emanuel Kaplan Collection of Elmer V. McCollum Publications

Elmer V. McCollum papers at the University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library

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