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Schoenfeld, Clay (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 49, Number 9 (June 1948)

Ross, Ward; Schoenfeld, Clay
W.A.R.F. report,   pp. 21-31

Page 21

   THIS IS THE short story .of an idea.
   It is the story of an idea which has made millions of children
healthier and millions of dollars for the public.
  It is the story of the blazing of a new trail in science, health, and
   In the words of Dr. Harry L. Russell, former dean of the Wis-
consin College of Agriculture, it is the story of an experiment in
''socializing profits that may arise from patent procedure so that
society at large rather than an individual may receive such profits."
   This is the story of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
It is not the detailed story, because that telling will take a book. This
is an outline of WARF history-a brief account of 23 years of Foundation
service-prepareu VbpeaL, . y o  V                 ,
owes its first allegiance.
Let's Go Back to the Beginning
  The story. begins like this:
  For many years it had been known that cod-liver oil could help rickets
disease especially prevalent in childhood and characterized by weak bones.)
In 1919, German sciehtists, experimenting with children suffering from rickets,
found that they could be cured by treating them with ultra-violet rays from
quartz mercury vapor lamp. Then five years later, English investigators,
ing with rats afflicted with rickets, secured growth in these sick rats by
them tissues taken from live rats that had been treated and cured with ultra-
violet rays.
  A young (38 year old) biochemist at the University of Wisconsin by the
name of Harry Steenbock, already famous for his work on vitamin A, became
interested prior to 1923 in vitamin D, the rickets-curing factor. He had
great idea. Scientists believed that the almost magic action from the ultra-violet
rays was successful only with living bodies. But Dr. Steenbock was first
to con-
ceive of and produce a health-giving-effect of those rays upon other than
the liv-
ing body. He first took an ordinary ration for rats-containing hog millet,
and salts-and exposed that ration to ultra-violet rays from his mercury vapor
lamp, then fed it to rachitic rats-and the rats got well. Then he took another
leap into the dark. If these rays will work on a ration, he asked himself,
why won't they work on oils? He decided to try olive oil.
  Under his mercury lamp he placed a pan of oil. He fed this oil to rats
fering from rickets-and in three weeks they were cured. Rats fed untreated
olive oil died.
Dr. Steenbock Makes a Great Discovery
  Steenbock spent night and day in his laboratory on the Wisconsin campus.
He treated other oils and fats. Always the food treated with the ultra-violet
rays cured sick rats. Then he tried the experiment on other animals.
  Through a thousand experiments, Dr. Steenbock and his lab assistants proved
that all sorts of foods could be activated with ultra-violet rays and given
strange property of bone-building and rickets-curing. In short, he discovered
and substantiated a method for the artificial irradiation of foodstuffs to
vitamin D.
He Had Four Alternatives
  Now once he had made this great discovery, Harry Steenbock had four
  1. He could make the sentimental gesture of "giving it to the whole
There was good precedence on his home campus for such a move. Prof. Stephen
M. Babcock had invented an immensely valuable test for butter-fat in 1890
had presented it to the public. It is not being unfair to say, however, that
well-meaning generosity on the part of Dr. Babcock actually delayed from
public the benefits of the Babcock test by 10 years. The discovery was exploited
by dairy-laboratory equipment manufacturers so carelessly that at one time
the Babcock test was very nearly discredited because of improperly calibrated
measuring glasses used by irresponsible persons. Not until the Federal Govern-
ment stepped in and standardized the test was the public protected. Even
not one cent of revenue ever accrued to the University from Dr. Babcock's
  Professor Steenbock realized that if he were to follow the lead of his
sor, companies not operating in the public interest would exploit vitamin
Furthermore, he knew that the University of Wisconsin would receive no
financial returns.
  2. He could patent his irradiation discovery himself. Indeed, one concern
approached him with a royalty contract for $900,000 for only part of the
   * In the fall of 1925 there
   was organized on the
   University of Wisconsin
   campus a corporation
   with the avowed pur-:..
   pose to "promotes en-
   courage, and aid scien-
   tific investigation and
   research at the Univer-
   sity." Between then and
   now the Wisconsin
   Alumni Research Foun-
   dation has been alter-
   nately damned for tak-
   ing milk from the mouths
   of babies and extolled as
   a great social tool for
   taking discoveries made
   on public funds and re-
   turning to that public the
   fruits otsuch discoveries.
   What are the facts? Here
   is a short but authorita-
   tive life and times of the
     By WARD ROSS, '25
General Manager and Counsel of
    the Wisconsin Alumni Re-
        search Foundation,
Editor of the Wisconsin Alumnus
rights. But Dr. Steenbock was not in-
terested in personal gain.
  3. He could turn it over to the Uni-
versity. He did offer the discovery to
the Board of Regents. But the Univer-
sity had neither funds nor organization
for going into business.
  4. There could be created a special
foundation for the purpose of patenting
and handling the wide commercial ap-
plication of his discovery in the inter-
ests of mankind everywhere, and for
funneling back royalties to his Univer-
sity for further scientific investigation.

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