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Theobald Smith

Theobald Smith

American epidemiologist
Theobald Smith
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American epidemiologist
Was Academic Professor Educator Physician Veterinarian Pathologist Scientist
From United States of America
Type Academia Biology Education Healthcare Science
Gender male
Birth 31 July 1859, Albany, Albany County, New York, USA
Death 10 December 1934, New York City, New York, USA (aged 75 years)
Star sign Leo
Cornell University
Albany Medical College
Copley Medal 1933
Manson Medal 1932
Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh  
Foreign Member of the Royal Society  
The details


Prof Theobald Smith FRS(For) HFRSE (July 31, 1859 – December 10, 1934) was a pioneering epidemiologist, bacteriologist, pathologist and professor. He is widely considered to be America's first internationally significant medical research scientist. His work included the study of Texas cattle fever and the epidemiology of cattle infected by ticks transmitting protozoa. He also discovered a species of Salmonella, named for his chief Daniel E. Salmon, and studied anaphylaxis, then referred to as Theobald Smith phenomenon. Smith taught at Columbian University (now George Washington University) and established the school's department of bacteriology, the first at a medical school in the United States. He also worked at Harvard University and the Rockefeller Institute.


Smith was born in Albany, New York, the son of Philip Smith and his wife, Theresa Kexel.

He received a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from Cornell University in 1881, followed by an MD from Albany Medical College in 1883. After his graduation from medical school, Smith held a variety of temporary positions which might broadly be considered under the modern heading of "medical laboratory technician". After some prodding by his former professors, Smith secured a new research lab assistant position with the Veterinary Division of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C., beginning his position there in December 1883.


Smith became the Inspector of the newly created Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in 1884. Established by Congress to combat a wide range of animal diseases—from infectious disease of swine to bovine pneumonia, Texas cattle fever to glanders—Smith worked under Daniel E. Salmon, a veterinarian and Chief of the BAI. Smith also discovered the bacterial species which would eventually form the genus Salmonella. After two years of work studying the efficacy of bacterial vaccination in pigs, Smith erroneously believed he had found the causative agent of hog cholera.

Smith turned his attention to Texas fever, a debilitating cattle disease; this work is detailed in a chapter in Microbe Hunters, by Paul De Kruif. In 1889, he along with the veterinarian F.L. Kilbourne discovered Babesia bigemina, the tick-borne protozoan parasite responsible for Texas fever. This marked the first time that an arthropod had been definitively linked with the transmission of an infectious disease and presaged the eventual discovery of insects as important vectors in a number of diseases (see yellow fever, malaria).

Smith also taught at Columbian University in Washington, D.C. (now George Washington University) from 1886 to 1895, establishing the school's Department of Bacteriology. In 1887, Smith began research on water sanitation in his spare time, investigating the level of fecal coliform contamination in the Potomac River. Over the next five years, Smith expanded his studies to include the Hudson River and its tributaries.

While Smith's work at the BAI had been highly productive, he chafed against the federal government bureaucracy and the lack of leadership from his supervisor. In 1895 Smith moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to accept a dual appointment: serve as professor of comparative pathology at Harvard University, and direct the pathology lab at the Massachusetts State Board of Health.

Smith joined the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research as Director of the Department of Animal Pathology in 1915 and remained there until his retirement in 1929.

In 1933, Smith was awarded the Royal Society's prestigious Copley Medal "For his original research and observation on diseases of animals and man.".


  • Parasitism and Disease (1934)

Other discoveries

  • Observed differences between human and bovine tuberculosis (1895).
  • Discussed the possibility of mosquitos as a malaria transmission vector (1899).
  • Variation and bacterial pathogenesis (1900).
  • Discovered anaphylaxis (1903), which is also sometimes referred to as "Theobald Smith's phenomenon".
  • Brucellosis infections
  • Used toxin/antitoxin as a vaccine for diphtheria (1909).
  • In the process of investigating an epidemic of infectious abortions of cattle in 1919, Smith described the bacteria responsible for fetal membrane disease in cows now known as Campylobacter fetus.
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 26 Sep 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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