Jordan, Edwin Oaks


Dates:           b. 1866; at Chicago 1892; head 1913; retired 1933; d. 1936

Locations:    Consulting Biologist, Mass. St. Board of Health (1888‑1890); Chief Assist. Biologist Lawrence Experiment Station (1888‑1890); Instructor in Zoology, (1892‑1895); Assist. Prof. of Zoology (1895‑1898); Associate Professor, Bacteriology (1899‑1906); Professor of Bacteriology, University of Chicago (1906‑1931); Andrew McLeish Distinguished Service Prof of Bacteriology (11931‑1933); Head, Dept. of Hygiene and Bacteriology (1912‑1933); Head, Serum Division McCormick Institute for Infectious Diseases (1905‑1917)

Training:      BS, MIT 1888 under Sedgwick; two months study under Prudden at College of Physicians & Surgeons; PhD in Zoology at Clark under Whitman 1892; six weeks at the Pasteur Inst. 1895; year at Freiburg 1909

Fields:          water; milk; public health; biology; food; biology; BACT‑NOM

Publications: "The Habits and Development of the Newt," J. of Morphology 8 (1892): 269‑366; "The Identification of the Typhoid Fever Bacillus," JAMA 23 (1894): 931‑935; "The Production of Fluorescent Pigment by Bacteria," Bot. Gaz. 27 (1899); 19‑36; "The Chicago Drainage Canal," Am. Month. Rev. of Rev. (1900): 55‑58; St. Louis, Chicago, and the Typhoid Bacillus (1900); "Some Observations upon the Bacterial Self‑Purification of Streams," J. of Exp. Med. 5 (1900); "The Kinds of Bacteria Found in River Water," Journal of Hygiene 3 (Jan. 1903): 1‑27; Analysis of Chicago Market Milk (Chicago, 1904); Bacteriology 1908; "Production of Public Milk Supplies from Specimens Contaminated with Pus Organisms," Am. Jour. Pub. Hyg. 19 n.s. 5 (1909): 126‑130; "The Bacteriology of Ice," An Address before the Natural Ice Assoc. of Am. (1910);

More Pubs:  co‑editor of Journal of Infectious Diseases; editor of Journal of Infectious Diseases 1926‑1932; Food Poisoning and Food Borne Infection (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1917 & 1931); "Relations of Bacteriology to the Public Health Movement since 1872," AJPH 11 (1921): 1044; "The Differentiation of the Paratyphoid‑Enteritidis Group," J. of Infec. Dis. 33 (1923): 567‑575; Epidemic Influenza:  A Survey (Chicago:  AMA, 1927)

SAB Involvement:  Vice‑Chair, Laboratory Section, APHA 1900‑1901; Charter member SAB; SAB council member 1900, 1902, 1904, 1906; Vice Pres. 1901; SAB Sec. Treas. 1903; SAB pres. 1905; session chair of sanitary bacteriology 1916 meeting; SAB delegate to the AAAS 1920‑1921; Pres. Epidemiological Society; member of Board of Sci. Directors, International Health Div. of RF; Medical Fellowship Board of NRC; SAB Honorary Member 1935

Presidential Address: “Variation in Bacteria” Unpublished MS in ASM Archives

Archive Files: Koser article; obits by Hudson; William Burrows, "Edwin Oakes Jordan, 1866‑1936," NAS Biog. Memoirs 20 (1939): 197‑225; ANB; DSB; DAB



     In Winslow's 40th anniversary address before the SAB, he described Jordan as "frail and gentle, but full of rich accomplishment as a teacher, as investigator and as author of a great text‑book, tireless in service and wise in counsel."

     Jordan was one of Sedgwick's first undergraduates, and took an active interest in the biology of bacteria, as well as the immediate application to water sanitation.  Immediately upon graduation, Jordan spent two months under Prudden learning the technique for identification of the typhoid and colon bacilli, staining techniques, etc. 

     After graduating MIT in 1888, he worked at Lawrence for 2 years making daily examinations of samples of the polluted Merrimac River, isolating and indentifying bacteria, then comparing to non‑polluted water supplies.  He employed Koch's semi‑solid gelatin media, and sought to document the entire flora of water and sewage. Most importantly, Jordan was one of the first to suggest that the presence of colon bacilli could be used as a biological indicator of contamination.

      Studied nitrifying organisms in soil and water, with Ellen Richards.  Upon finding the inability of these organisms to grow on gelatin plates, they developed alternate means of cultivating the nitrifying bacteria. 

     Jordan spent a summer or two at Woods Hole, and there met Charles O. Whitman, and subsequently received a two year fellowship to study experimental embryology at Cark.  At Clark, he wrote a diss. on "The Habits and Development of the Newt."  Jordan also befriended Frank R. Lillie and William M. Wheeler at Clark.

     When Whitman brought Jordan to Chicago, Jordan was still interested in biology, brought Sedgwick's notion of applied biology to the new dept.  Although Jordan held the title of Instructor in Zoology, he taught Sanitary Biology, and the courses in bacteriology in addition to classes in biology.  His first course in 1893 featured the description, "The Sanitary problem.  The methods, objects, and results of the examination of drinking water; the examination of air, soil, milk, ice, etc.  Sewage disposal and water supply.  The filtration and precipitation of sewage.  The nitrification of organic matter.  Lectures and seminar."  (Burrows 202)

     In 1893‑1894, Jordan expanded the Sanitary Biology offerings to two courses, one in general bacteriology and another in advanced.  He also gave a course in general biology.  In 1895‑1896, Jordan split the general bacteriology offerings into two parts, one dealing with biological and sanitary aspects, and the other covering the pathogenic bacteria and disinfection.  His own investigations centered on typhoid bacilli.  In the summer of 1897, Jordan introduced a seminar in immunity. 

     In 1898, he was listed as Assoc. Prof. in Bact, and researched sanitary bacteriology, publishing on identification techniques for typhoid bacilli and conditions affecting their longevity in water, purification of public water supplies, and bacteria in sewage.  Jordan performed many of the important studies in connection with the Chicago Drainage Canal case around the turn of the century.

     According to Burrows, Jordan "became thoroughly convinced of the importance of bacteriology as a separate science rather than a branch of some other biological science, and felt strongly that bacteriologists should have a society of their own." (Burrows 204)  As a result, he collaborated with Conn on the formation of the SAB, serving as its president in 1905.

     When bacteriology was removed from the Dept. of Zoology in 1900, Jordan added another course in public hygiene, and embarked on studies of Bacillus pyocyaneus and its pigments, and another study on fluorescent bacteria.

     At the 1899 meeting of the SAB, Jordan presented "On the Detection of Bacillus coli communis in Water," in which he noted that fermentation tube tests were problematic in that other gas forming species overgrow B. coli and "obscure or falsify the typical reaction."  He points specifically to B. cloacae.  At the 1902 meeting, Jordan presented "On the Nature of 'Pyocyanolysin," (discussed by Abbott and Welch) and at the 1903 meeting he reported a "Note on the Non‑Identity of the Hemolytic and Gelatin Liquefying Properties of Certain Bacterial Filtrates," which was discussed by Novy, Winslow, Bergey and Gildersleeve.  At the 1905 SAB meeting, Jordan discussed the "Production of Acid and Alkali by Bacteria."  This paper drew discussion from Novy.

     At the 1908 meeting, Jordan and Harris reported on a new species, "Bacillus lactimorbi:  Its Relation to Milk‑Sickness and Trembles."  The organism was found in several cases from cattle, horses and lambs, and the pathological condition could be reproduced in experimental animals.  Their description was tentative, as the organism "was very prone to undergo considerable variation in morphology due to methods of cultivation, temperature and fluctuations in reaction of the media being chiefly responsible.”

     Jordan dabbled in epidemiology, largely in connection with his work on typhoid in surrounding communities.  Along with Heinemann in 1904, he performed agar plate counts on milk samples, showing that 50% had counts between one and 20 million per cubic centimeter, and an additional 16% had more than twenty million.

     In 1905, Jordan was asked by Hektoen to direct the Serum Division of the McCormick Institute.  Jordan personally purchased a farm in Barrington, Illinois, and soon produced better serum than was commercially available. 

     Jordan translated Ferdinand Hueppe's textbook on bacteriology, and then wrote his own text, General Bacteriology in 1908.  In 1905‑1907, Jordan undertook for the McCormick Institute the production of diphtheria antitoxin, which at the time was scarce and expensive.  In 1909, he took a year at Freiburg to study the sanitary organization and methods of German cities. 

     During the 1910's, Jordan devoted his efforts to problems of sanitation and public health.  He undertook specific investigations of typhoid fever outbreaks in Milwaukee, Detroit, Des Moines, St. Charles, etc.  "As a result of these and other pieces of work, he came to be regarded as one of the foremost authorities in the country on water‑borne disease and at the request of the United States Public Health Service, he set up bacteriological standards for drinking water supplied to the public by common carriers in interstate commerce." (Burrows 209)  Beginning in 1912, Jordan wrote (anonymous) articles on typhoid fever that were published annually in JAMA. 

     Jordan was also interested in typhoid via milk sources, and was a long‑time supporter of pasteurization.  He published a study on milk hygiene as early as 1904 as part of the Health and Sanitation Comm. of the Civic Federation of Chicago.  Jordan also published a number of popular articles on milk hygiene.  In the 1920's, Jordan prepared the standard methods of milk analysis for the APHA.

     One of Jordan's research failures involved studies on "milk‑sickness."  Along with Harris, they attempted to find a bacterial agent, but later studies performed elsewhere determined the cause as food poisoning from white snakeroot. 

     In the late teens, Jordan researched the cause of food poisoning, a phenomenon generally attributed to "tainted" food and "ptomaines."  According to Burrows, this interest arose from his contact with the large meat packing industries in Chicago, and Jordan had been asked by one of the companies to investigate an outbreak of typhoid fever in a subsidiary plant in South America.  At the 1916 SAB meeting, Jordan presented a broad survey of the "Bacteriology of Foods."

     At the 1920 SAB meeting, Jordan reported on the "Bacterial Changes in Stored Normal Feces."  This might have been a technical presentation related to his work on food bacteria.

     Along with Dack, Jordan found a filterable substance produced by staphylococci which produced the typhoid clinical picture of food poisoning, and later found similar substances from a variety of bacteria, including the presumably harmless colon bacillus, when cultivated under suitable conditions.  He also studied botulism, and finally published Food Poisoning in 1917, and revised in 1931.  According to Burrows, Jordan (along with Savage in England) was the world's authority on food poisoning.  Jordan served as a consultant to the packing industry until his death.

     Food bacteriology, in some ways, was connected to other basic research problems.  In 1915, Jordan traced the persistence of mutants in pure cultures that differed from their parent types in the ability to ferment certain sugars.  Jordan studied the paratyphoid group, advancing techniques for differentiating and identifying this confusing group, based on a combination of morphological, physiological, and immunological tests.  By the mid‑1920's, Jordan was considered the world's authority on this class.  His work on the paratyphoid group also led him to published a paper on the interconvertability of "rough" and "smooth" bacterial types.  At the 1915 SAB meeting, Jordan presented a paper on "Variation in B. Coli."

     Burrows contends that Jordan was always interested in the "pure" aspects of research, and points to his work on enzymes, and his papers on bacterial variation and dissociation.  Jordan's work on typhoid in water, led him later to the viability of typhoid bacilli in shell oysters.  Jordan showed that organisms introduced by floating in artificially contaminated sea water may survive for as much as 24 days.

     During WWI, Jordan directed one of the four Red Cross mobile diagnostic laboratories ("Lister".) The cars were built by the Pullman Company, and were operated by the Sanitary Service of the American Red Cross to perform field laboratory work.  Jordan's car never left this country, but did perform routine services for army training camps.  After a few months, the car was turned over to the Army, and Jordan was transferred to the only remaining Red Cross car, "Pasteur."

     Following the 1918 epidemic, he worked on respiratory illnesses.  The Pfeiffer bacillus' role had been challenged by 1920, and as a member of the Respiratory Commission, Jordan undertook a systematic investigation of the diseases, finally publishing in 1927 Epidemic Influenza.

     In years nearing his retirement, Jordan spent winters in Puerto Rico, Panama and Jamaica.  He also worked in the School of Tropical Medicine in the Canal Zone.