The Hunger Fighters, pp. 267-296 (1928)
Paul de Kruif



THERE IS A KIND OF HUNGER other than the hunger of the face gaunt for lack of food, of the lean belly hurting for want of something to fill it. There is the hidden hunger that lets folks starve to death while they are eating plenty.

Babcock of Wisconsin was first of all modem men to find this hunger that doesn't gnaw at men and beasts but only strikes them down with strange ills, maybe kills them. Babcock is certainly a most gay old man. The outstanding thing about him, aside from his roaring laugh that may explode at most dignified and embarrassing moments, is the way he has always kicked fame in the face.

He has lived his own life as a merry searcher, as a hunger fighter who never took himself seriously.

He would be the first to deny that he was the first fighter of this new mysterious hunger, for this science, too, has had forerunners as anonymous, as prehistoric, as the first men who turned tricks to fill empty bellies. After all, the first fighters of the hidden hunger must have been shaggy slant-browed fellows who foraged for every kind of food, who had sense enough to eat everything they could swallow without gagging at it. Was that a work of their brains? Was that some crude science of theirs? Who knows? There was nobody to set down the record of the why of their aimless and enormous foraging.

But of this there is record: that Stephen Moulton Babcock, whose science was always a sort of private vaudeville for himself and his friends, first asked the question: Is there a hidden hunger? He was lucky to live in these days when, what with the so-called advance of civilization, men have come to be finicky, have gone from the fields and woods into [268] the cities, have eaten fewer and fewer kinds of food. So this new hunger has loomed, in a dozen shapes grotesque and deadly—in the pitiful bent bones of babies, in the mysterious wasting away of children born healthy, and in consumption maybe, and in the dreadful red death of pellagra surely. Babcock—beginning with a slightly dirty and not at all dignified joke—was the pioneer who set a new kind of hunger fighter sniffing off on the trails to conquer these terrors.

But to listen to this smiling, ancient man, you'd think he'd had very little to do with the digging out of the mysterious things that lack in some foods—that are present in despised foods to guard us from death. "Hart and his able assistants deserve all the credit," laughs old Doctor Babcock as he talks of that fantastic experiment that began in 1907. He laughs a young man's laugh, and from his talk it is plain he is just as interested in Babe Ruth, and in the lamented Christy Mathewson whom he adored. He is fundamentally as excited about a new home-run record as about being called the first man original enough to see that a cow might still be hungry though she was eating enough to satisfy three beasts of her own kind and weight.

Not a single word has Babcock ever published about this basic discovery; all the glory of it went to the youngsters around him. Humor and work, jokes and experiments—these were continually mixed up in Babcock's life, and for him the finding of a new fact was immensely more fun than the recording of it. "His work has always been play for him," says Harry Steenbock, one of Babcock's boys who was later to trap the health of the sun's rays. Babcock has never allowed himself to be serious, businesslike, or bothered—and to this day he refuses to have a telephone put in his house. The hidden hunger is only one of his many discoveries; his curiosity has no limits; he has put his finger into nearly every pie of science. He has been famous. And the astounding thing about this once more obscure old man is [269] that his curiosity doesn't seem to grow old with his body. He's now eighty-four, but you may still see him walking to his laboratory, up the hill, at Madison—and here he's still busy asking original, heretical questions: he's turned himself into a physicist now, and is busy propounding a new theory—unpublished of course—as to the nature of matter!

That highbrow question is far enough off from his first comical feeding trials with the two pure-bred cows of the Station Herd at Madison, who starved, to the great and very proper disgust of W. L. Carlyle. But in this day of specialists Babcock has stayed a primitive, and why shouldn't he experiment at anything?

In this humdrum day of efficient science Babcock has kept the spirit of old Antony Leeuwenhoek.


IT was lucky Babcock was born on a farm, because it very early seeped into him there that just because you're a chemist, you shouldn't try to explain everything chemically. Before he went up to Tufts College and Cornell University, he fed stock with his father on their Oneida County farm upstate in New York, and his father had only the knowledge of common sense and experience. Not knowing it, maybe, Stephen Babcock went up to the chemical halls with his dad's small-word science tucked away at the back of his head. Babcock had an incessantly active head on him, was not satisfied with what they could teach him at Tufts, couldn't even learn enough chemistry at Cornell, and finally went to Germany where the great whales of chemistry were finding new chemical facts instead of simply teaching old ones.

These were the last days of the eighteen-seventies, and they were piping days in chemical science. Food, drink, clothes, war, life itself was going—according to the [270] chemists' faith and by the chemists' art—to be turned topsy-turvy in test-tubes. Babcock sat in the classes of great-domed Teutons, who were going to figure out to the last ounce on a piece of paper the grub a man needed to do twelve hours of work. There was the famous Baron Liebig, who was positive he would soon brew a milk in his laboratory, an ideal artificial milk better for babies than the natural stuff that drips from mothers and cows. That handsome scientist, adored by scholars from a dozen countries, had ambitions to concoct artificial foods to make farms things of the past. Liebig would revolutionize agriculture, not in the field—but in his laboratory! Babcock sat, with his eye open, drinking in such hopes and dreams from men who'd known Liebig personally. He saw brainy men dragging grains and green feeds, roots and every kind of roughage off farms into their dens that were heavy with assorted chemical stinks. Babcock helped them stick those natural foodstuffs into their beakers, retorts, chemical ovens. Amid the fumes of strong gases fit to knock a mule-driver off his pins, happy in these outlandish workshops, Babcock helped the German chemists to analyze, speculate, weigh, compute, prophesy—

His one eye wide open, this New York State boy followed the reasonings of these chemical sharks as they got the knowledge of the feeding of beasts and men down to a simple diagram. Exact! All foods are nothing but proteins, fats, carbohydrates, salts—and water. Simple! And on the foundation of that they'd be building up presently a complete ration for man and cow in their laboratories, making a million pounds of beef from their new artificial grass, making a million pounds of German infantrymen from new artificial cows. … It was inspirational, no less.

Diligently Babcock picked up German, listened to lectures by big-bearded men with that curious bird-like alertness that he still has, with his head rocked to one side. He had the honor to shake hands with old Friedrich Wöhler,  [271] who first made in a test-tube what savants had always before thought could only be made by God; Wöhler had synthesized urea—up till his time the mysterious product of those living laboratories, the kidneys of beasts and men. Babcock's chemical religion was stoked up by his study with Bunsen, a gorgeous old chemical potterer, a chemical magician, whose thoughts soared from the gas stoves that he had invented for housewives to the unattainable chemistry of stars a million light-years away.

Babcock came back home, full of the very latest wrinkles of the exact analysis of foods, believing the new gospel that the exact mixture and balance of proteins, fats, starches, and salts would produce just the right amount of stuff and energy to form the tissues of pigs, chickens, heifers, and babies, and to make them run. What, according to this lovely science, were bulls and babies, excepting so many animated boilers and steam-engines? And what news this was, for Babcock to bring home to his northern New York chemists, feeders, farmers. You see this tall young American unknown, bending over standard formulas and tables that'll teach everybody to fatten hogs by arithmetic instead of by experience. People, horses, heifers? They're chemical machines—no more. Babcock came back upstate in New York to recite the amount of fat, sugar, and starch a cow needed in order to have the oxygen she breathed burn that food to give her the energy she must have to keep her going. Plus that, all she needed to do was to swallow the right amount of protein to make up for the wear and tear on her muscles, her sinews and the secret marrow of her bones. You fed one amount of all these things to a cow while she rested; you fed exactly this increased amount should she have occasion to gallop three miles.

Alas for the curiosity that was so much a part of him, there seemed nothing much more left for this boy to learn about the rationing of cows to make them moo, have calves, give milk, do all the deeds required of respectable cows for [272] the carrying out of their cow destinies. But wasn't this too simple?

While he'd been in Germany, cutting his scientific eye-teeth in laboratories where a few arrogant men put the theories of their brains against the human experience of nobody knows how many thousands of years—imps of doubt played at the back of his head. Was it just a matter of chemical formulas? Didn't the source of food, the kind of food matter? What had the barbarous men and women of the days ten thousand years before colleges were invented—what had these folks done to make themselves grow, keep their bodies energetic, healthy? Of course they'd just eaten everything they could swallow. Not knowing why on paper, or even scrawling the science of it on cave walls, they knew enough to shin up trees and get eggs out of nests, to tame wild grasses and eat their seeds for cereals, to get meat by their arrows, to tame female meat on four legs in order to get the milk from it, to claw dirty-handed in the ground for roots and tubers.

Babcock pondered: these aboriginal folk had never had to figure out formulas for making themselves grow or go. They just went. And from what was known of present-day savage folks who haven't gone beyond these aborigines, their babies grew and weren't bow-legged; consumption was unknown among them; their teeth were so strong dentists would starve to death trying to make a living among them. And the uncivilized people ate everything—from all over the place!

Babcock wondered: unscientific people fed their chickens, cows, pigs, as many different foods as they could find. And if these dumb beasts were fed too few things, the animals had the sense to forage for varieties of food themselves. But here were the chemists. They said it didn't matter where a cow's food came from, so long as she had the right amount of protein to take care of her wear and tear, and enough fat, [273] starch, sugar to give her energy. It was simple. But was it right?


WITH a German degree of Doctor of Philosophy, but not at all dignified by it, Babcock came back to upstate New York, took a job at Geneva at the northern tip of Lake Seneca that runs like a blue finger pointing south between austere long hills. He was appointed chemist of the Experiment Station there, and his boss was Doctor Sturtevant, that self-made scientist who immortalized himself by sticking into their proper, if terribly changeable classes, all the different sorts of Indian corn.

Of the first conversation of Sturtevant and Babcock there is no written record, but roughly their talk went on this wise:

"Doctor Babcock, will you please get ready to do the chemistry of these food-digestion experiments that I've been planning for our dairy-cows here at the Station?"

But this was right up Babcock's alley, was what he'd just got down cold in Germany, what he could do better than any man in America, no doubt! "I was elated," said Babcock, long afterward, with a laugh. Here was a chance to find out by chemical science—superior to mere common sense—whether a given ration was good for a cow or no. And into Babcock's very bare little laboratory came baskets of corn on the ear, crackling bundles of good corn stover, messy bunches of hay—in short, all the food Sturtevant wanted to try out on his cows cluttered Babcock's sanctum, and into his glass vessels, porcelain pots, into his beakers and crucibles went samples of these foods.

Babcock computed—or believed that he did—the exact amount of protein in that ration, by finding the amount of nitrogen in it and multiplying this amount by the figures 6.25. The precise amount of fat in this hay and corn he got at by extracting the ration with ether. With care he [274] estimated the crude fiber of all this feed. And its minerals he found by burning a weighed sample, and weighing the ash that was left after burning. And now­

The question was: How well would these precious cows of Director Sturtevant digest this ration?

Into their mangers in their barn Babcock had the hired man put samples of this same stuff he'd just analyzed. How much of it would they use? How much of it would they take into themselves for the building of their bone, muscle and sinew? How well would they digest this ration—whose chemistry he'd so exactly determined?

The hired man labored; grotesquely he carried into Babcock's laboratory what came out of these cows after they'd eaten this food. Exactly, with a chemist's glorious disdain for unbeautiful angles of his labor, Babcock tested these discharges by exactly the same tests and weighings he'd applied to the good foods from which they'd come. Exactly what was left, of these fats, proteins, starches, sugars, and minerals? How much of each of them had the beasts used? How efficient were these rations of Sturtevant's? Babcock—who had lost one eye when a boy by the sting of a bee—cocked his head to bring his good eye to bear on his tubes. Great were the smells and acrid were the fumes in which he labored.

In precise columns, on paper, Babcock set down two rows of figures-the exact amounts of the chemical things his cows had taken in with their food, and the precise amounts of the same things that had come out of them. These last figures he subtracted from the first ones, and the answer?

The answer was the amount the cows had digested—of course!

The good Director Sturtevant stalked in every now and again, proud of these experiments that would undoubtedly tell them a lot about the best food for their prize cows. And he approved of Babcock as he watched that young man's industrious back—bent over those figures. But meanwhile, odd [275] things were happening in Babcock's head. He is industrious enough, thorough enough, persistent enough surely—and dozens of times he has done these experiments over, when suddenly one day, he straightens up from his desk, his forehead knots up into wrinkles, he gives a puzzled grunt-­

He scans the figures for the protein and what-not that had gone into his cows. He compares them with the rows of figures for the stuff that they've discharged. What's this? Look at these figures for the ash—for the mineral part of their excrement! What the devil does this mean? The amount of mineral in their discharges is much more than the amount they've taken in with their food!

He jumps up. "But this changes everything! What'll all these figures amount to, if I leave out the ash from my calculations—if I neglect the minerals altogether?"

It was a heresy. What would the great Germans who had devised the digestion tests say to any chemist who "neglected the minerals"? It was a hunch, and unorthodox. But Babcock got out fresh sheets of paper, began his calculations all over, set down the figures for the weights of the proteins, fats, sugars and starches that the cows had eaten. By their side he put down the figures for the outgo. But he left out the ash, the minerals—from both places.

Alas: what went into those excellent cows was exactly the amount that came out of them! But impossible! Cows digest hay, corn grain, corn stover. Everybody knows they assimilate a lot of it, use it. … Impossible! … Babcock did his calculations over and over again. Not impossible—but correct. There was not a thing wrong with the cows; their food was okay; but everything was wrong with the silly chemical science. Babcock smiled; why—these digestion experiments didn't tell a thing about how much or what the cows digested. And he burst out into a roar of a laugh. "And when Babcock laughs," wrote famed chemist Louis Kahlenberg, "he laughs all over."

With an appearance of proper respect Babcock took these [276] two silly sets of figures to the office of his boss, Dr. Sturtevant, laid them down on that good man's desk, and asked, with a straight face:

"Please tell me, Doctor, which one of those rations you would judge best for the cows here on the Station?"

Sturtevant, judicious as becomes a director, with scientific authority, scanned them, put the 3.25 in this row over against the 3.24 in the row opposite. He tried to be judge of whether 6.76 of this, for a cow, was better than 6.79 of that. "Well, Doctor Babcock, I must confess that one of these rations looks to be just about as good as the other."

"All right, sir," came back Babcock. "But one of those sets of figures is for what our cows ate, and the other is for what they dropped!"

And he had the nerve to chuckle, and then laugh.

There sat the excellent Sturtevant, amid the ruins of his experiments of months, and he couldn't believe it. This was tommyrot; Babcock must have weighed things wrong; made mistakes in his tests, didn't know how to cipher. From Sturtevant there came an authoritative sputtering of the kind that issues from authorities when authorities are wrong but still are—authorities. But by now Babcock had stopped laughing.

Down on the desk in front of his boss he put papers with rows of figures for exactly the same digestion experiments, made not by himself but by the greatest German chemists. "See—just leave the ash out of their figures. Now take a look at the two rows. Here's food. There's excreta. Which—according to the figures—will make the better ration?"

Sturtevant was stumped.

Babcock now went around, not preaching against these nonsensical digestion experiments, but getting laughs out of them. For years these tests had been dished out to up-to-date farmers as the last word in the most efficient way to put meat on cattle; the chemists never for a moment questioned these digestion tests: weren't the biggest chemical [277] guns in Germany back of them? But now Babcock got up in the sober meeting of the Association of Agricultural Chemists: "1 can make up a mixture of different things, none of them'll have the slightest food value, but when you examine them by your chemical tests, they'll have exactly the same composition as any first-class food—by the figures of the tests

"Name such a mixture!" challenged one of the leading chemical bigwigs.

"Just try analyzing soft coal—the same way we analyze for nitrogen, for sugars, fats, whatnot!" laughed Babcock.

And the noted Harvey Wiley, later the crusader for pure food, had to admit Babcock had them stumped.

But how to tell just how and what parts of a ration were good for cattle, and what parts might harm them? Babcock revolted-for who knows what irrational reason?at the notion that animals, people, were mere engines needing exactly this and that for fuel and just so much protein for wear and tear. He had a hunch rations weren't at all so simple as that. He knew a bundle of alfalfa or a green leaf of maize must have, hidden in it, a hundred chemical compounds, unknown. Wise as the Bard was Stephen Babcock, and this gnawed at him, that there were more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of—in even the exactest chemist's philosophy. Babcock was not for a moment predicting that there might be mysterious lacks in certain foods—that the absence of some "x" might have dreadful consequences for beasts. His hunch was not then so definite as that, he simply knew that next to nothing was known outside common sense farmer knowledge about what was good, what might be positively bad in the food of beasts and men. How to tell? That drummed in his active head.

He knew how to start, and with an experiment so simple any chemist would probably snort at it. Try one kind of food, from a single kind of plant, or even a single part of a plant. Try feeding that one thing to a beast and keep it up [278] a long time—try that on cows! Then just watch the cowand you'd find out what that food lacked. But that experiment was too original, too confoundedly A B C to get any notice whatever. Try it on cows? Who'd give Babcock a cow?


SEVEN years later, in 'eighty-eight, Babcock went to Wisconsin, and in less than five years his name was known in every creamery and cheese factory in America, in Europe, and in the Islands Down Under, and in nearly every dairy farmer's home. Famous he became for his little fat test for milk. Babcock's boss at Wisconsin was Dean W. A. Henry. "What our state needs more than anything is a simple, practical test for the amount of fat in milk," complained the Dean to Babcock. "The creamery business all over the country is going to pot. The butter factories are paying the farmers by the pound for milk. You see what that means! The fellows who bring in thin milk, even the crooks who skin the cream off their milk, or water it, get as much as the farmer whose milk runs five pounds of fat to the hundred."

"Well—" from Babcock.

"Well—we should pay 'em for the fat, but there's no simple test for it. The honest men are kicking, aren't taking their milk to the creameries any more."

As if he were some magician Babcock was expected to furnish that test like bringing rabbits out of plug hats. In a year, he actually did do it, but that's another story. Only if he hadn't been an extremely stubborn man, as well as a gay one, he might never have got it. For the whole secret of his discovering this famous fat test lay in his refusing to be buffaloed by the outlandish milk of the Jersey cow, Sylvia. He'd invented several tests that looked pretty good. Henry urged him to publish them. But none of these tests would take all of the fat out of the milk of this cursed [279] cow Sylvia. "Oh, let her go. Put out the best test you've found so far!" urged Dean Henry. "After all, there aren't many Sylvias."

"No," smiled Babcock. "No test ever leaves this place under my name until it works for every last cow I try it on." And that was that. But he kept on dumping more and more, and yet again more, of sulphuric acid into the milk of the annoying Sylvia—until all of a sudden he got enough acid into that milk to get out all the fat without doing anything else whatever to it. And that made an amazing simple test for the fat in the milk of all cows; so he tumbled on to this test that beat all his other ones to smithereens—by being stubborn.

"In the hope that it may benefit some who are striving to improve their stock and enable creameries to avoid the evils of the present system, the test is given to the public," wrote Babcock at the end of his paper—and he didn't put those last words in italics. Benefit? This jovial man turned the hit-or-miss guessing game, alas! often the skin game, of milk selling, into the prosperous business of American dairy farming. And ex-Governor Hoard, a God-fearing man, said: "The Babcock Test has made more dairymen honest than the Bible has ever made."

And the State of Wisconsin gave Babcock a medal, designed and struck by Spinx and Son of London, "recognizing the great value of his inventions, and his unselfish dedication of these inventions to the public service."

He wouldn't patent anything.

So Babcock and Henry worked for Wisconsin, Henry with his ears pricked up for folks' needs, Babcock never caring particularly, full of merriment, of high, unprofessorial horseplay. In his shirtsleeves he toiled, up on the fourth floor of the Old South Hall in Madison, tinkering, always looking in his own odd, different way at every question. "Cheese-curing methods are all mixed up," Henry would tell him. And while at work fussing with milks that [280] were turning into cheeses, Babcock found that cheese cures itself, by a ferment, and not by microbes as Pasteur and the big scientific bugs of Europe were claiming. But this was all fun, no matter how much money cheese factories might make from it, and never for a moment was Babcock, like Pasteur, making ballyhoo of his benefactions.

His friend Henry, though really a botanist, had written a fine book on the science of stock feeding. He was an earnest man, whose beard, says one record, "was genteelly elaborate, and so tidy I should guess he curried and brushed it with considerable care, if not a little pride, for it was no common possession."

Babcock wasn't sure at all about the food science in Henry's book, was always going back to that old joke he'd played on his first boss, Sturtevant—in that matter of the figures for the food and the dung of cows. They would argue, with violence. "I don't believe in your fine book," Babcock would say, and he was always insisting there was only one way to find out the good or harm of those hundreds of chemical things hidden in oats and grass and maize. "Try one food at a time, for a long time, on cows!" But he had no cows. So he kept working on cheeses. Babcock's beard wasn't curried but Henry and Babcock were excellent friends.

Henry, with the dignity that seems to be inherent in Deans, met delegations of worried farmers. He was conscientious, not light-headed or sportive, and you could find him any day up to his eyes in letters, trying to answer why this dairyman's heifers weren't thrifty on this marsh hay, why those Nebraska farmers' cows weren't calving right the year they were fed wheat meal and straw during the corn shortage, or why those shotes got stiff-legged, rheumatic, towards spring. Henry never missed trying to answer—though God knows here were conundrums. In the middle of trying to dictate his answers—guesses! but honest ones—Henry stops, frowns, his stenographer has lost her place.


She smiles foolishly. It's a gusty bellow of Babcock's laughter cascading down from three floors above. Henry'd go to the head of the stairs, and shout: "We can't hear ourselves think down here!"

They were excellent friends. "If I could only get hold of a few cows," Babcock kept saying. "Hold 'em down to one source of food what would happen … feed 'em on just one kind of plant. Practical feeders don't know—they feed everything at the same time!"

But this was no chemical science—and Babcock was hired for a chemist. But he kept arguing, twitting Henry on his best-selling book, "Feeds and Feeding," putting up unanswerable arguments that reduced Henry's ideas of balanced rations to worse than nonsense. Then, twenty years after his first joke on Sturtevant, Babcock got his cows.

Or rather, to be accurate, he got the loan of two cows to experiment with, but not to keep, mind you, 'til death did them part. One day in the midst of one of those skirmishes between the handsomely bearded Dean and the merry chemist, W. L. Carlyle listened in. It was that same Carlyle, brown-skinned and of clean-cut face, with very light gray eyes, who was then Professor of Animal Husbandry, who is now famous as manager of the Alberta ranch of the Prince of Wales—and no dude ranch will that ranch be, either, so long as there's Carlyle to manage it.

"But you can't tell which part of your feed does what to your stock, Carlyle, can you?" grinned Babcock.

"Just come down and see whether there's anything wrong with my Station Herd," was all Carlyle could offer in answer.

"Yes—but the rations you feed your beasts are mixtures of a thousand different chemical things. Your cattle are good, but mightn't they be better? Mightn't you be feeding bad things—masked, covered up partly, by good ones?"

What would Doctor Babcock advise? How would Doctor Babcock go about it to feed stock, Babcock the chemist,


Babcock thirty years away from the smell of a barnyard?

"Just let me have a couple of your cows, and I'll start a little experiment," begged Babcock.

Carlyle, though Scotch, gave Babcock the two cows, and should be honored and remembered for this generosity.

Right away the chemist told Carlyle and Henry his plan -so simple he could unfold it all in a couple of sentences. Limit each cow to just one natural food-feed one of them nothing but food coming from the oat plant, for a long time, say for a year; and the other one nothing but corn.

… There might be a big difference in the way those two cows behaved on those restricted rations!

Again dreadful argument in that Old South Hall. Dean Henry got out his own bible, which was 'Feeds and Feeding"—written by himself—to prove that such a diet wouldn't give the critters the proper balance of proteins, fats, starches, sugars, salts.

Never worry, laughed Babcock. There would be exactly the balanced amounts of those chemical compounds required by the most authoritative science. It's perfectly easy to balance a ration for protein, for energy, even if it does come from one plant. And Babcock proved it to Carlyle and Henry.

Carlyle? That practical man thought this was a perfectly fool experiment-and can you imagine any practical feeder thinking differently? Time out of mind good stockmen had fed their beasts mixed rations. More fundamental still-any beast will forage mixed rations for himself. Oh-there was trouble ahead for his precious cows, and Carlyle would keep an eye on them, even if they were Station cows, and not his very own. Couldn't be throwing state property around that way.

"But this has never been tried before!" insisted Babcock, who was delighted with his extremely simple originality, and his eye twinkled at Carlyle and Henry out of his genial [283] face cocked to one side, and his good humor flowed over his colleagues, engulfed them, conquered them.

The fool experiment was on.


WHILE the dairy-farmers of Australia and New Zealand Down Under, in thanks for his hotter-fat test, sent the gay Doctor oil paintings of contented cows, while the World's Fair Exposition at Paris sent him an Award of Merit, Babcock-never concerned about his merit-began to make free with Carlyle's pore-bred cows. Cow No. 1 got oats to eat, rolled oats, oat straw for roughage, nothing at all but oats and salt and water. Her sister got nothing but corn.

Cow No. 1 promptly got thin, slumped down—and in three months gave op the ghost.

A far-away look came into the eyes of Cow No. 2. Her ribs showed and she threatened to follow her sister—but this was too much!

Carlyle took his one cow hack, brought her back on the regular Station ration to look alive once more—no more such monkeyshines with stock the college needs for breeding, for the teaching of cow-judging!

So Babcock's first try for the spotting of a hidden hunger, flivvered, washed out. All he could do was to mull over his surprise at this swift, dreadful result of eating nothing but food from the oat plant. And then too, he had doubts to nurse, to mull over. After all, those cows, full grown, were used to mixed diets, and they hadn't taken too kindly to eating oats alone, corn alone. … Their appetites had certainly fallen off. … But surely they'd eaten enough for their requirements of protein, energy. … But had they? Damn it! The barn records of exactly how many pounds they'd eaten weren't complete, weren't sure. And—in contrast to his gayety—there never was a searcher more [284] austerely exact than the Doctor. But could he swear these beasts had eaten absolutely enough? Might they not just have plain starved? Babcock didn't publish.


SIX years more, and then his real chance came. Cows came to him now, times were changing and the world was beginning to believe in cow experiments—even experiments that killed valuable cows, and now Babcock rejoiced in cows galore, sixteen fine cows he got the chance to fuss to his heart's content with. Youngsters had come to Wisconsin, who appreciated the exploring spirit in the eternal youngster that the Doctor was. The brilliant young chemist, E. B. Hart, trained under wise and jolly V. C. Vaughan and the hawk-eyed F. G. Novy, at Michigan, came from Geneva to Madison. Babcock had hired Hart to work on milk, but the moment Hart heard of the Doctor's old fool experiment of holding cows down to just one kind of plant-food, this young man was all on fire to take a whirl at such a test. Then with Hart there was Humphrey, the new Professor of Animal Husbandry: these two youngsters seethed with modern ideas. … Babcock was no longer ahead of his time. .

"Let's try it out again," urged the two of them—they had the fire of exploring youth in their voices. Hot they were to try out the fool experiment right up to the hilt, to the death and damnation of every cow in the Station Herd if need be. They schemed, figured, planned, hounded the easy-going but enormously experienced Babcock. And that man, at last, though up to his eyes in the testing of a dozen other fantastical chemical notions, listened, laughed, said: "All right, boys—go ahead and try it!"

Twenty-six years after his first joke, Babcock at last had the use of sixteen husky heifers. Five months old, grade shorthorn heifer calves Hart and Humphrey bought, each one full of the pep such a calf should have, and they were [285] hungry, Lord! they lived to eat. "And that's what we want," smiled Babcock. "We've got to be sure they eat enough of these monotonous, one-plant rations. Can't have folks saying they simply starved because they stuck up their noses at what we tried to feed them." But these particular heifers? They were young enough to be satisfied with a bellyful of anything.

Into four lots Babcock's boys divided the sixteen shorthorn calves; one lot got nothing but corn—corn meal, corn stover, corn gluten. The next had to live on a diet of wheat—wheat gluten, wheat meal, and wheat straw for roughage. The third entry of four in this strange race—toward [286] health or toward death, who knew?—began eating oats, rolled oats, and oat straw.

"And now, Hart, let's take these last four," said Babcock, "and feed them a mixture of all three of these plants -one-third the amount of corn, of wheat, of oats, that the others get. They'll be the controls, the check lot." These mixture-fed shorthorns would beat the rest hollow, be the thriftiest, milk best, breed best, no doubt of it . … The folk wisdom of ten thousand years was behind that bet.

So these sixteen calves began their strange, momentous lives in the basement of the University Dairy Barn at Madison. Every day they were let frisk about in a paddock as bare of a spear of grass or even a weed as the boys' side of a schoolhouse playground. … There would be no catches, no loopholes, in this experiment. The excellent William Voss was put in charge of the feeding of them, kept track to the pound of just how much each one would eat. And by Babcock's exact calculations, each one was swallowing the same amount of protein, and of sugar, starch and fat for energy. Then the old Doctor faded from the picture, let his boys do the rest.

For six months nothing at all happened, excepting that his first fool experiment with Carlyle's cows looked wrong, for every one of the sixteen beasts ate lustily, and seemed to grow as any calf should. There was just one funny business, that William Voss reported, and that Hart and Humphrey puzzled their heads over: the four wheat-eating calves wagged their heads about, as if they were annoyed by something. In the yard and in the stalls they kept sticking out their tongues, they'd open their mouths and keep rolling up their tongues and then unrolling them most queerly. … But that was all. …

One year: it was now May 1, 1908. All sixteen of them were still putting on pounds—in spite of the diets of such deadly sameness. Why not call it a day? What use going on?


But Babcock, though not a physician, had the sense of the old, outlandishly patient natural historians, observers of Nature before the days of efficiency. "Keep at it, boys," urged the Doctor. "Make it a lifetime of these creatures. Make the experiment like life itself!"

And it's to the honor of Hart and Humphrey that they showed no undue impatience, in spite of their youth. They had endless faith in the hunches of their chemical maestro. But would this test get them anywhere? Wasn't Babcock, for once, barking up a wrong tree? The gentle-voiced Hart and the walrus-mustached Humphrey looked at rows of figures: see—only a few pounds difference in what any of these sixteen beasts weighed. … True, the corn-fed beasts did look sleeker, fuller through the barrel. … And weren't the wheat-fed creatures a bit sluggish, and wasn't their build a little gaunt, unnatural? But what was that to put down as the result of an experiment? Science must show results, tangible results in figures—clean-cut comparisons!

But they stuck at it, adored their "Doctor," which is still Hart's one name—spoken with the utmost reverence—for Babcock. And Babcock, now past sixty? Oh, he was up to his ears, behind doors in a little room from which now and again came laughter, in experiments—on water. Why experiment on such an utterly well-known, simple, chemical compound as water? No—but this was not common waterbut the strange, unthought-of water that all beasts make in the tissues of their bodies to keep them alive. "Metabolic water" was Babcock's name for it. And he fed clothes moths on old cast-off fur boas, nothing more, and he found the fantastic fact that these millers have got to make water in their bodies to keep them alive. They never had a chance to drink; they lived on fur that was almost bone-dry; but from the condensation of chemical compounds, from the union of complicated chemicals in their bodies came water: the bodies of these arid creatures were made up of water, [288] more than fifty percent—and nearly all of it came from inside them! Dabbling with such unthought-of, original questions, that was what the Doctor always was doing. Poking his finger into pies of the unknown—into questions he alone seemed to have the sense to see. And he did not forget those dieting heifers.

The sixteen of them had grown up now, were ready to do their cow-duty in life. "Breed them," the old searcher told Hart and Humphrey. "Make your experiment like life itself. Maybe, when you put your heifers under the strain of forming young inside them—then anything that might be wrong in one of these rations will show up!"

From May to August of 19o8, as the heifers came in heat, Humphrey married them, one and all, to the fecund and amorous pure-bred Guernsey bull, Coralette's Son. Life, new life, flowed from this able bull into each of the sixteen heifers. That winter there exploded the surprise that lies just around the corner in so many fool experiments—

Behold the corn-fed heifers. They come toward their first ordeal of motherhood, batting never an eye. Within six days, within two days, even right on the dot of their reckoned-up time they bear their babies, four fine heifer-calves these new mothers drop—four children weighing all the way from sixty-seven to eighty-five pounds, and vigorous. The calf of corn-fed mother, No. 556, gets up onto its sturdy legs in less than an hour, and sucks. "Lived: strong and vigorous," Humphrey and Hart mark down for all four of the children of the cow-mothers who've eaten nothing but corn-meal, corn-stover, corn-gluten.

But where are the calves of the cows who have lived on nothing but wheat? Pregnant each one of them had become by the noble Coralette's Son. But, better than a month before their time, things begin to go horribly and mysteriously wrong with them. The wheat-fed mothers are strangely in a hurry to get their calving over and done with. Here's the baby of wheat-fed cow No. 561—it's a miserable little [289] creature, come sixteen days before its time. This little heifer manages to breathe, yes, but four days go by and still she can't bring herself to stand on her wabbly legs. Her breath is too fast, and her blat? It's no blat at all to speak of—better call it a moan. Humphrey and William Voss, tender as good stockmen are, feed her from a bottle, but when she's eleven days old she has convulsions, and on the twelfth morning of her life Voss finds her dead.

Here's another one of those wheat-eating mothers, bearing a calf weighing forty pounds, and it lives just two hours.

Way ahead of term is born the wretched child of the third wheat-fed cow, and breathing feebly for half a day, it too passes on.

The calf of the fourth and last wheat-fed cow is a little bull, weighing forty pounds—born dead.

Here they stand, old Stephen Babcock and his boys, agape at something utterly new in the science of living things. Face to face they are, with anew fact there was no way under God's heaven of ever foretelling—but a fact that Babcock had felt!

"Make it like life itself," he had said. "Maybe when you put those heifers under the strain of forming young inside them …"

That was his hunch.

Like voyagers peering at some unearthly sight looming up at them as they round the bend of a river never before passed down by men, these two chemists and that stockman stand there.

Face to face with a new x they are. There's an x, a chemical something that's lacking in wheat—wheat that lets heifers grow, become sexually mature, conceive, and then bear offspring mysteriously lacking the spark of life. And this virtue that lacks in wheat is present in maize, hiding somewhere in grain or the leaves or the gluten of maize, giving cows the unknown wherewithal to bear living vigorous young. What is it? What is this x?


These were great days in Stephen Babcock's life, but to have seen him you'd never have thought it. He was pleased, yes, and he was at his pranks a little more than usual, maybe, but he never touched this fundamental experiment, this terribly important science his boys, Hart and Humphrey, were toying with. For himself, for his own instruction—and amusement—he kept on playing with millers, with bee-moths, with those beings that so grotesquely existed on food with next to no water, that made their own water for their own internal mysterious uses. Faithfully he visited the college baseball games, to those who were interested he took pleasure in reciting the batting averages of his big-league favorites, and he was prepared to prove to all doubters that Christy Mathewson, "Big Six," was one of the greatest living Americans.

This new x? This new thing on earth not dreamt of in any chemist's, any doctor's philosophy? Said Babcock: "Hart and his able assistants deserve all the credit!"

The calves born of the mothers fed entirely with oats were just so-so, three lived out of four, and those three were not too chipper. But the children of the control cows, of those checks, of the ones that had been eating corn, wheat, and oats—rations any common-sense man would have said were the best of the four? Not so good were these calves—only one lived out of four. So it couldn't be variety itself that was needed. … Already the grand calves from the maize-fed mothers had shown them that monotony of diet wasn't necessarily bad. But what was wrong with the calves of the mixture-fed mothers?

Hart and Humphrey went to their searcher-father, the Doctor.

"Well," mulled Babcock, "maybe your mixture-fed beasts don't get enough of the something that's good that's in corn. After all, they're only getting a third as much corn as the corn-fed mothers. …  Or, if there is something that's bad hiding in wheat—possibly they didn't get enough [291] of the good in corn to make up for it . … Then again, it isn't necessarily a poison that makes the wheat diet bad for the pregnant cows—maybe wheat lacks something that corn happens to have. … We don't know." And Babcock could only smile, shake his head, say no more than that. Nobody knew, here at this birth of a new science. They were in new country and had to break their own trails.

"We'll make this experiment like life itself"—that was a refrain Hart and Humphrey had now learned from the Doctor, and so on into its third year went this strange test. After the way of modern searchers, these young men became ambitious to get to the very bottom of the old chemist's simple fact of the hidden hunger, wanted to probe into the chemical structure and the very atoms and molecules of it. They imported a cunning young chemist, E. V. McCollum, who must be an expert, because he had a doctor's degree from Yale University—which is far east from Madison. McCollum was to help Hart dig into the chemistry of this hidden hunger of mothers that robbed their newborn offspring of life. Then there was young Harry Steenbock, fresh from a farm in northern Wisconsin. Hart, gentle but full of the divine curious enthusiasm of a searcher, used to walk home evenings in those brave days with Steenbock, and Hart started strange fires under the blond thatch of that tall austere young man. What was it that lacked in wheat? Or what was it that made wheat poisonous? And what was it that lacked in the bodies of those dead calves born before their time? Hart, McCollum, Steenbock, took apart the blood, the urine, the most intimate tissues of those dead calves, studied those limp, wet, lifeless little creatures from stem to rump, and what did they find? Perfect little machines those calves seemed to be—there was lacking only a something to make them go.

Did life lack in wheat? But what was the spark of life?



BUT maybe this weird fact of the virtue in maize, the lack of it in wheat, was only a chance result? Maybe something else had killed those calves a-borning? There was only one way to see. And in 1909 Humphrey bred the four sets of corn, wheat, oats, and mixture-fed cows again. Never for a moment were their rations changed, and it was absolutely sure they were all of them getting plenty to eat—any fool could figure that out from the book, "Feeds and Feeding." More than enough protein each cow had, and more than enough sugar and starch for energy. And salt? "They all got salt ad lib," wrote Hart.

But now trouble and disaster began to overtake certain of the cow-mothers themselves—beginning with the ones who for two years had had nothing but wheat. These creatures, the first innocent sign of whose worries had been that rolling and unrolling of their tongues, and the wagging of their heads, now began to stump about on stiff legs; up on their feet, they'd grunt trying to get down—once down on the ground, they'd groan trying to get up, and it was all William Voss could do to prod them back up again.

October, 1909, one of those wheat-fed cows up and died, of anthrax. …

January, and Voss found another of the wheat beasts mysteriously dead in her stall one morning—halter-strangled? Maybe. But then again—she'd been going down hill terribly lately. The beasts had been eating plenty, both of them, but there was just something—lacking. There was excitement in the little old laboratory at Madison—but not as much as there deserved to be, for, from Babcock down, this crew of men didn't seem to know, to realize the dark new gorge of the unknown they'd tumbled into. Here they were, down under the researches of Pasteur, digging at foundations below all of microbe hunting. Anthrax? Anthrax was due to a germ, it was catching. Why hadn't the [293] corn-fed cows caught it? Might it be that food, some mysterious x in food—would make it needless to worry about vaccinations, about the assaults of microbes? But who blames Babcock, or Hart, or Humphrey, for not thinking of that? They were forerunners—bewildered by too many surprises in this new unknown.

On the morning of May 27, 1910, three years from the start of the fool experiment, eleven remained of that herd of sixteen who'd started out so bravely. It was no chance, no accident. The second calves of the two wheat mothers that were left, saw the light, blatted dismally, died. But the corn-fed mothers? Okay—never fear, and four fine vigorous calves the four of them brought into the world again. .

"There never was a time we talked with the Doctor," said E. B. Hart, with that glow in his voice that comes when he mentions his merry old master, 'never a time he went out of the room without leaving us some good idea, some new experiment."

So now Hart and Humphrey switched around the rations.

They took a prosperous, thrifty-looking corn-fed cow, put her on nothing but wheat.

One of those two miserable rheumatic wheat-fed critters they fed on nothing but corn. And so on with the oat- and the mixture-fed beasts, and William Voss came into the laboratory from the barn to tell Hart: "We've got good luck. They're all eating their new rations fine." Excepting, Voss had to admit, it was a little hard to get the corn cows to eat nothing but wheat at first—which would make it seem that cows may be smart, without science.

The result was astounding: poor old wheat-fed No. 570 began to live on her corn stover, meal, gluten at a moment you'd say she was ready for the slaughter house. Less than a month on corn and her legs got easy, and in two months her ribs hardly showed at all. Three months—it was a result [294] like a patent medicine testimonial, only it was true—and you'd say she wasn't the same animal! And all the forlorn oat, wheat, mixture cows, changed to the corn ration, perked up, got new pep, more fat,—and brought forth vigorous calves.

There's no doubt now. There's an x, there's a life-giving something in maize. But the thrifty corn-fed cow that they'd switched to wheat? It was like that old experiment of Babcock's with the first pure-breds of W. L. Carlyle. In three months she looked sad, got stiff. By September she lay down and couldn't get up. Dr. Hadley hurried in, as veterinarian, and administered stimulants—whatever they were—but the creature died on the fourth of October, despite having eaten plenty—of wheat.

"What's this x? Is it a poison in wheat? Is it a lack of something good in wheat that's present in corn?" the young men asked Babcock.

But how could that old searcher answer them? He could only cock his head to one side, and scratch his thinning, grizzled hair, and chuckle, and tell them he didn't know, tell them that was for them to find out. … During the last twenty years since this basic experiment that told of the hidden hunger, literally hundreds of searchers all over the world had looked for this x, for the other x's that presently began to be discovered all over. But the real nature, the chemical build, of not a single one of them has been found to this day.

Meanwhile, pondered the Doctor, how about buying an automobile? He'd been reading of the adventures and triumphs of Barney Oldfield, he'd even gone pretty fast, as a passenger, himself. How about driving one of these things? They were getting mighty reliable. …



so Babcock passed to other questions, having done his job of pointing out a basic one. He had started hart, the serious Steenbock, the ambitious E. V. McCollum on their life work of mapping out the foods that lacked this x, the foods that caused the hidden hunger. Here they were, young men full of hope, digging away to find foods that satisfy the hidden hunger, and rob it of its terror. And the splash of Babcock's experiment made rings of ripples that reached to laboratories all over the world, and in every country men began fumbling for those mysterious unknowns in food, the lack of which makes men and beasts with full bellies so dangerously hungry. While Hart and Humphrey were counting the dead calves of those wheat-fed cows, an Englishman, Hopkins, discovered he simply couldn't get white rats to grow on a diet of pure proteins, fats, sugars, salts. But when he added a wee bit of milk, up went the weight of these beasts with a bang.

Here was a diet whose lack made puppies' bones soft, bent them, sent them staggering about, grotesquely bowlegged. Here was another that turned the mouths of guineapigs sore, and loosened their teeth, gave them scurvy. And all these discoveries came about by the use of the same sort of simple experiment that the Doctor had devised—holding down the diet to one or two or three simple sources of food, and then waiting to see what was lacking. Libraries now began to be filled with the science of the hidden hunger. …

While the laboratories buzzed and these searchers sweat, in 1917, Doctor Babcock, now seventy-four, bought himself an auto—and has since driven it forty thousand miles, and who blames him for being a little proud of that, since he has only one eye?

"There's nothing I regret more," said Prof. E. B. Hart, "than that the Doctor's name was not at the head of [296] our paper." That paper was the famous Wisconsin Agricultural Station Research Bulletin, No. 17—where the curious adventures that revealed the hidden hunger now lie embalmed and buried.

But the Doctor's name on that paper? He wouldn't have permitted it, cared not a snap of his fingers for it. "All the credit is due my able assistants," he tells every one, and he chuckles, and is positive that having his name at the head of immortal but forgotten bulletins is not what he has been after in life.

So he remains an 'unwritten book," as Harry Steenbock calls him, and most of his work, too, will be buried with him. Though what a book might be written about the queer flashes of insight that played through the clouds of his mirth and buffoonery—and what theories might be spun about why there's only one Stephen Babcock in this twentieth century, when Réaumur, old Antony Leeuwenhoek, Spallanzani, and so many searchers with the Doctor's many-sidedness flourished two and three hundred years ago. But of course he wasn't exactly like them—for they were after immortality, as reward for the truths they found.

A few years ago, a respectful reporter for The Breeders' Gazette had the honor to pay a call on the Doctor. "I had never before had the opportunity of meeting so eminent a man," Wrote that honest reporter, and confessed he shook a bit at the knees. Respectful, the interviewer opened his mouth to begin asking questions about this distinguished man's science. Babcock gave him a handshake and a smile that took the tremble out of this visitor's knees. And behind the Doctor's jovial face there struggled a question that he'd been wanting, all that morning, to ask—anybody. Here, good luck, was a fellow from Chicago—he'd know.

"Are you reading John L. Sullivan's life, written by himself, that's running in papers all over the country just now?" asked Babcock.


Then the old searcher began, with a fire in his eye that makes him young at eighty-four, to regale his visitor with his own yarn of the deeds of John L., to expound what a grand bruiser this immortal John L. must have been.

Such is the finder of the hidden hunger. This man is the father of the vitamines.