History of Lab Animal Medicine

at The University of Chicago


The Matter of the Field and Farm

In the late 19th century, there was much planning in The University of Chicago Zoology Department for a biological farm where prolonged animal studies of topics related to heredity could be conducted without interruption.  Professor Charles O. Whitman, who was the first director of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, presented plans for such a farm at a meeting of the American Naturalists in December 1897, less than a decade after the university’s founding.  At the same meeting, Charles Davenport spoke of a biological preserve for studying phylogenetic problems.  Whitman recruited Davenport to the university in 1899.  In 1903, Davenport wrote a letter to University President Harper laying out plans and a budget for the “Field and Farm.”  It was not to be.  A month later he accepted a position at the Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor.


A.J. “Ajax” Carlson

In 1904, A.J. Carlson began studying the anatomy of horseshoe crab hearts at Woods Hole, work that led to worldwide recognition.  The same year he joined the University of Chicago faculty where he would remain for the rest of his remarkable career. Our oldest and largest animal facility bears his name today.  Carlson studied endocrinology, the relationship between hunger and digestion and pioneered teaching of medical students with laboratory animals.  Throughout his career he also engaged in many humanitarian efforts.  The National Academy of Sciences published a short biography of Carlson which may be read here.  He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine on February 10, 1941 and that article is here.

Carlson would be instrumental in starting the first centralized animal facility at University of Chicago.  One of his many graduate students was a young veterinarian, Dr. Nathan Brewer.


Nathan Brewer and the Animal Care Panel

Carlson approached graduate student Nate Brewer, who received his DVM from Michigan State in 1938, about the challenge of laboratory animal facility management in the early 1930s.  Dr. Brewer was not hired as Facility Director until 1945.  He received his PhD from The University of Chicago in 1946.  Together with four other Chicago-area lab animal veterinarians, he founded The Animal Care Panel (ACP).  Seventy-five people attended its first meeting held on our campus.  Its purpose was to share information to lead to the improvement of care and use of laboratory animals. Dr. Brewer served as its president 1950-55.  The ACP gave rise to the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM, 1957), AAALAC International (1964) and the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS, 1967).