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Daniel Elmer Salmon

Born  1850
Died  1914

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American veterinary pathologist, born July 23, 1850, Mount Olive, New Jersey; died 1914.

Biography of Daniel Elmer Salmon

Daniel Elmer Salmon was the son of Daniel Landon and Eleanor (Flock) Salmon. He went to school in his native town of Mount Olive and the Chester Institute near by, and in 1868 was enrolled in the first class at Cornell University, which had been established three years earlier in New York. He graduated from Cornell as bachelor of veterinary science in 1872, after a study that also included a six months stay in Alfort, France.

With his graduation papers in his pocket, Salmon married Mary Thompson Corning from Ithaca in the state of New York, and settled as a veterinary in Newark, New Jersey. For reasons of health he moved to Asheville, North Carolina, situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains at an altitude of 600 meters and known for its mild climate.

However, already two years later he gave a series of lectures on veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia, and the same time commenced a special study of diseases of hogs. Daniel Salmon was granted a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine from Cornell University in 1876.

In 1879 Salmon distinguished himself as a key participant in the New York State campaign to wipe out pleuro-pneumonia in cattle. After this effort he was selected by the Department of Agriculture to study the widespread problem of livestock disease in the south, particularly Texas fever.

In 1883 Salmon was asked to organize a veterinary department, thus becoming founding director of the Bureau of Agriculture under the Department of Agriculture. Already the next year this institution was made into the Bureau of Animal Industry, headed by Salmon. He held this position until 1905, when a dispute with the head of the Department of Agriculture in Washington forced him to resign from the bureau.

The scientist
During his tenure as bureau chief Salmon made epoch-making contributions to veterinary medicine, also becoming a leader in the field of public health administration.

It was due in large part to his efforts, as well as those of the noted pathologist Theobald Smith, that two major threats to health and industry, contagious pleuro-pneumonia and Texas fever in cattle, were eventually controlled. Other investigations concerned chicken cholera, the prevention of diseases in sheep and contagious diseases of hogs.

He inaugurated a number of significant public health policies, including a nationwide system for meat inspection and quarantine requirement for imported livestock, and for the inspection of exported cattle and the ships with which they were transported.

Early in his career Salmon had been a skilled laboratory technician, but administrative duties gradually removed him from the daily details of research work. As head of the bureau he governed its policy, planned the assistants' work and found time to write close to one hundred articles, alone or in collaboration with others. Together they cover almost the entire field of research in veterinary medicine in this period.

Collaboration with Theobald Smith
One reason for the successful research being done despite Salmon’s administrative duties was the fact that he was probably quite a genius when it came to choosing assistants.
Among them was Theobald Smith (1859-1934), one of the greatest names in American medical science.

Theobald Smith is today best remembered for his research on anaphylaxis (acquired hypersensitivity against proteins that are normally tolerated without problems). Anaphylaxis was long referred to as Theobald Smith’s phenomenon.

The relationship between Salmon and Smith, however, was less than heartily, because Salmon insisted on standing as the sole senior author of several research reports, including the one on the hog cholera bacillus - Salmonella cholerae-suis, which was first discovered by Theobald Smith.

Salmon did not stop at that. He even made sure that himself and other veterinarians undeservedly were credited the extremely important work done by Theobald Smith on elucidation of Texas cattle fever. Unfortunately, such conflicts are no rare phenomena in the academic world, where the struggle for honour and positions may be much more brutal than in business.

The results of this troubled collaboration, however, were great. Together Salmon and Smith made an epoch-making discovery which, today, is still saving children from death or crippling disease. During the study of hog cholera they demonstrated that dead (heat killed) organisms could immunize animals against living organisms. This was the foundation for the development of a vaccine against typhus and Jonas Salk’s (1914-1995) production of polio vaccine.

Salmon is associated with a number of important developments in infectious disease pathology, most notably with his demonstration of the transmissability to humans of tuberculosis in cattle, thereby confirming the role of animal vectors in the spread of the disease.

Following the death of his first wife Salmon, on November 15, 1904, married Agnes Christina Dewhurst from New York. After resigning from the bureau in 1905, in 1906 he accepted an invitation from the Uruguayan government to supervise the establishment of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montevideo.

Returning in 1910, Salmon in 1913 became director of a private pharmaceutical company producing serum against swine cholera in Butte, Montana. There he died of pneumonia on August 30, 1914. Daniel Elmer Salmon was buried in the Rock Creek churchyard in Washington.

Daniel Elmer Salmon was president of the American Public Health Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association, and was a member of many foreign and American scientific bodies.

We thank Paul Koenig for correcting an error.


  • D. E. Salmon and T. Smith:
    On a new method of producing immunity from contagious diseases.
    Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 1884-1886, 3: 29-33.
    Theobald Smith found that dead virus could induce immunity against the living virulent virus. Although Smith made the discovery on his own, his supervisor, Daniel Elmer Salmon, usurped credit

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