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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 062

Francis Gano Benedict papers


The Francis Gano Benedict Papers, 1870-1957, document Benedict's research and professional activities as a chemist and nutrition researcher at the Boston Nutrition Laboratory.


  • 1870-1957.


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Consult Public Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all materials in the collection. Researchers are responsible for identifying and contacting any third-party copyright holders for permission to reproduce or publish. For more information on the Center's use, publication, and reproduction policies, view our Reproductions and Use Policy.


5.5 cubic feet (5 record cartons, 1 half document box, and 1 oversize flat box)

The Francis Gano Benedict Papers, 1870-1957, are the result of Benedict's administrative, research, and professional activities as a chemist and nutrition researcher at the Boston Nutrition Laboratory. The collection contains records from FGB's career from his PhD studies at Heidelberg to his administrative and professional activities as Director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory. The bulk of the records spans from 1895 to 1957. Includes research notebooks and photographs from FGB's doctoral work in chemical composition at Heidelberg; FGB's autobiography; newspaper articles about his development of the calorimeter; location studies, records, and correspondence from the Carnegie Institute's selection of Boston as the site of their nutrition laboratory; correspondence, notes, lectures, newspaper clippings, travel journals, scrapbooks, and photographs from FGB's research and administrative activities as Director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory; and bound reports and photographs from FGB's travels to Europe to lecture and to observe European physiologists and research scientists.


Francis Gano Benedict (FGB), Director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory from 1907 to 1938, specialized in chemistry, nutrition, and the study of metabolism in humans and animals. He was born 3 October 1870 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Washington Gano and Harriet Emily (Barrett) Benedict. In 1877 the family moved to Orange Park, Florida; four years later, they settled in Boston, Massachusetts.

FGB studied chemistry with Josiah Parsons Cooke at Harvard College, and received the AB and AM from Harvard in 1893 and 1894, respectively. As a student at Harvard, FGB's published studies focused on chemical subjects such as Double Haloids of Potassium and Antimony (1894). FGB completed his PhD studies, magna cum laude, at Heidelberg University in Germany in 1895. FGB was appointed research assistant to Professor Wilbur O. Atwater at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he was later appointed Professor in 1905. Atwater, a chemical physiologist, encouraged FGB to study physiology and nutrition; the two collaborated on several nutritional studies and published Experiments on Digestion of Food by Man in 1897. FGB's studies in metabolism, published in Chemical Researches, 1894-1900 (1901), were the results of his early research in nutrition. From 1895 to 1907 FGB was a physiological chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and from 1896 to 1900 he served as chemist at the Storrs Experiment Station in Connecticut. FGB met and married Cornelia Golay of Brewer, Maine in 1897. Mrs. Benedict was trained in biology and zoology, and she co-authored many of FGB's published studies in physiology in later years.

While at Wesleyan, FGB built a number of calorimeters, including the closed circuit respiration apparatus and calorimeter. As a result of his work, FGB was selected by the Carnegie Institution of Washington as the first director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory (BNL) in 1907, where he continued to construct calorimeters, including the Benedict Apparatus which measured basal metabolism. He used this device in studies of heat production and regulation in humans and animals. FGB was also involved in the development of metabolism studies based on age, sex, height, and weight, and collaborated with Elliott Joslin on an intensive study of respiratory metabolism in diabetes. Other research included examining the effects of nutrition, food intake, exercise, and sleep on the metabolism of humans and animals. Many of these studies are found in Vital Energetics: A Study in Comparative Basal Metabolism (1938). During the winter of 1906-1907, FGB traveled to Europe to observe the methods, techniques, and equipment used in leading scientific laboratories, and formed ties with many physiologists and research scientists in Europe. FGB retired from the BNL and all other professional activities in November 1937.

After retirement, FGB turned to his lifelong interest of magic and became active on the college lecture circuit. He was a member of the Society of American Magicians and performed professionally from 1938-1942. The Benedicts' summer house in Machiasport, Maine became their fulltime residence after FGB's retirement although winters were spent in warmer climates. He died in Machiasport, Maine there on 14 April 1957.

Series and Subseries Arrangement

  1. Series I. Personal Papers, 1870s-1957
  2. ___Subseries A. Biographical Papers, 1891-1957
  3. ___Subseries B. Personal and Family Photographs, 1870s-1950
  4. Series II. Boston Nutrition Laboratory Records, 1904-1954
  5. Series III. Personal and Professional Correspondence, 1894-1954


There are 126 photographs, cyanotypes, yanotypes, and tintypes; these images are housed in box 4. Five photographs were physically removed from the collection; they are accessed by call numbers S030.01, S030.02, S030.32, and M016.01.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Francis Gano Benedict Papers were purchased from his daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Hanggi, by the Harvard Medical Library in 1961.

Digitized Items

Seven volumes from Series II, Reports of Visits to Foreign Laboratories, Boston Nutrition Laboratory Records, 1904-1954, have been digitized and are available via Harvard University Library's Page Delivery System (PDS). To provide context, links to volumes are also provided in the container list for boxes in which they physically reside.

Processing Information

Processed by: Shawn Waldron, September 2002.

Processing Note: When surveyed in 2002, the collection was arranged in alphabetical order and broken into sections describing his education, professional career, personal items, and photographs. The collection was organized into three series. Items in folders were not rearranged. This collection was formerly numbered GA 07.

Benedict, Francis Gano, 1870-1957. Papers, 1870-1957: A Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine) Repository

The Center for the History of Medicine in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is one of the world's leading resources for the study of the history of health and medicine. Our mission is to enable the history of medicine and public health to inform healthcare, the health sciences, and the societies in which they are embedded.

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