Prescott, Samuel Cate


Dates:           b. 1872; retired 1942; d. 1962

Locations:    Assist. Prof. (1895‑); Professor of Biology (1900's‑1942); Head, Dept. of Biology and Public Health (1921‑); Dean of Science (1932‑1942)

Training:      S.B. MIT under Sedgwick 1894

Fields:          food; industrial; water; biology; dairy; BACT‑NOM; milk; teaching

Publications:  with Breed, "The Determination of the Number of Body Cells in Milk, by a Direct Method," J. of Infect. Diseases 7 (1910): 632‑640; Enzymes and their Application translated Jean Effronts 1902 book; Elements of Water Bacteriology with Winslow (1904); "Report on Ice Cream Examinations," in Alsbergs 1914 hearings;;

SAB Involvement:  Charter member of the SAB; SAB Sec.‑Treas. SAB 1907; SAB Council Member 1905, 1908; Chair, Comm. on Microbiological Teaching and Education 1911; SAB delegate to AAAS council 1913; Sec‑Treas of Bug Club, 1911‑1915; organized SAB session on Dairy and Food Bact. 1917 meeting; Chair SAB Comm. on Resolutions, 1919‑; President of SAB, 1919; Chair of Laboratory Section of APHA

Presidential Address: "Some Bacteriological Aspects of Dehydration” J. of Bact. 5 (1920): 109‑125

Archive Files: 2‑IXC Folder 77; "A History of Bacteriology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," M.P. Horwood approx 1952; Eric ‑‑ look for exhibit records from Food Processing exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science in the 1960's or 1970's; obit in J. Bact. 83:6, 1962 and NYT March 21, 1962; Nat. Cyc. American Biog. 1930 and 1968; ANB; DAB


     Member of the Bug Club.  Taught "Industrial Biology" course as early as 1895, with emphasis on applications of microbiology to dairying, vinegar making and food preservation.  Was co‑instructor with Sedgwick in water and sewage bacteriology in 1896.  In 1897, he assumed major responsibility for instruction in bacteriology, and continued until 1916, offering two courses, General and Sanitary Bacteriology.  He became head of Dept. of Biology and Public Health in 1921.  In the 1920's, Prescott moved the department more and more to Industrial Biology and Food Technology.

     At the 1899 SAB Meeting, he presented, with W.L. Underwood, a paper "On the Bacteriology of Canned Goods, with a Detailed Account of Bacteria Detected in Sour Corn."  At the 1901 meeting, Prescott spoke "On the Apparent Identity of the Cultural Reactions of B. coli communis and Certain Lactic Acid Bacteria."  This was a highly suggestive paper, but he only intimates that the category of "B. coli" or "lactic acid" needed to be precisely defined, not entirely re‑worked.  The paper was discussed by Moore, Vaughan, Sedgwick, Harding and Jordan.

     At the 1902 meeting, Prescott delivered "Further Evidence of the Apparent Identity of B. coli and Certain Lactic Acid Bacteria," using evidence of fermentation, inoculation tests, etc.  "As a result of the experiments the author believes that the organisms studied are not merely alike in certain characteristics, but are absolutely identical, and thus that organisms having the same characteristics as B. coli are very widely distributed in nature, and their presence, unless in considerable numbers, is not necessarily indicate of recent faecal contamination." (Science 17, 6 March 1903, p. 378‑379)  BACT‑NOM  The paper was discussed by Conn and Welch.

     At the 1904 meeting of the SAB, Prescott described "Some Large but Inexpensive Incubators for Teaching and Working Laboratories," which drew questions from Conn, Novy, Houghton, Rosenau and Winslow.  In 1905, Prescott delivered a preliminary communication, or "A Note on the Indol Producing Bacteria in Milk," and suggested that their presence suggested "the possibility of some connection between these organisms and the intestinal diseases often so prevalent in children fed on raw milk."  The paper was discussed by Prucha.

     Prescott returned to the problem of milk bacteriology at the 1906 SAB meeting, discussing the "Commercial Bacterial Inspection of Milk and its Results."  In these inspections, Prescott advised the farmers on how to reduce bacterial counts.  The paper was discussed by Park, Rosenau, Rogers, Harding, Bergey, Conn and Stocking.  Prescott presented a "Note on Sugar Fermenting Organisms on Grains" at the 1907 SAB, which was discussed by Jordan.  Prescott also reported on "Some Bacteriological Tests of a Milking Machine," which drew comment by Stocking and Edwards, and "A Note on the Occurrence of Leucocytes and Streptococci in Milk," which was discussed by Harris and Pennington.  At the 1908 meeting, Prescott evaluated the "Types of Bacteria Found in Fermented Milk Products Prepared for Therapeutic Use."

     Breed and Prescott presented a technical paper, at the 1909 Meeting in Boston, on "The Determination of the Number of Leucocytes in Milk by a Direct Method," that argued the centrifuge method varied greatly from sample to sample (discussed by Harding, Rosenau, Rettger, Bergey and Stocking).  At the 1909 meeting, Prescott and Hoyt reported on "The Bacteriology of Condensed and Evaporated Milk" (discussed by Conn and Marshall)  At the 1911 meeting of the SAB, Prescott, Colson and Magoon presented a paper describing their "Study of a Surviving Types of Bacteria in Milk Pasteurized in the Final Package."  Prescott returned to this topic at the 1912 SAB meeting, discussing "Problems in Sanitary Milk Production," and again at the 1913 meeting with two papers:  "The Occurrence of Colon Bacilli in Certified Milk," and "Bacteriological Changes in Certified Milk at Low Temperatures."

     Prescott was president of the SAB in 1919, and delivered an address on "Some Bacteriological Aspects of Dehydration." 

     Taught courses in general bacteriology, bact. of water and sewage, dairy, bact. of foods, mycology, industrial microbiology, zymology, industrial biology, Tech of Food Supplies, Tech of Food Products.

     Prescott delivered a paper at the first SAB meeting on the bacteria of sour canned corn.  Interestingly, it was Prescott who recommended in 1905 to the APHA, that a committee be created to establish a set of standard methods for milk analysis.

     Studied microbiology of dehydrated, refrigerated and quick frozen foods; microbiology of textiles and fibers, production of organic solvents; but mostly on foods.  For example, he studied diseases of the banana in 1902, and was constantly in South and Central America.

     He authored a statement for the course catalogue in 1926 articulating a vision of industrial biology:  "Biology in a broad sense includes those sciences dealing with the study and control of living things, both plants and animals, from the invisible microbe to man himself.  Our food supply, clothing, leather, timber and paper are products of biological activity, and the great problems of the health of communities through sanitation and the control of diseases are questions of biology.  Great industries have been built through the applications of biological knowledge and the products of these industries amount to billions of dollars annually.  Pasteur's work led to the development of the new science of Bacteriology which has revolutionized medicine and sanitation and led to the development of new industries.  This opened a new and important era in science, the era of Applied Biology, including Industrial Biology and Food Technology." 

     He then mentions the economic nature of food production and distribution, the development of Fermentation and Biochemical Industries.  Prescott noted that WWI created a demand for rubber which spawned the butyl alcohol industry. 

     At the 1916 SAB meeting, Prescott and Ingham presented "Some Comments on the Scope of a General Course in Bacteriology," in which they argue for a broadening of topics beyond pathogens, and a consideration of bacteria as a "biological group" with attention to "their distribution, morphology, and physiology...." Prescott, Philbrick and Burrage submitted to the 1916 meeting a discussion of "Some Sources of Error in the Microscopic Method of Examination of Foods for Sanitary Quality."  At the same meeting, Prescott and E.A. Carleton submitted "Some Notes on the Indol Reaction."

     At the 1917 meeting, Prescott discussed the wartime considerations for the "Prevention of Spoilage in the Control of Food for the Army." 

     Prescott's connection to the canning industry was solidified early in his career, partly growing from his friendship and collaboration with William Lyman Underwood.