Conn, Herbert W.



Dates:          b. 1859; 1884 to Wesleyan; 1888 to Storrs; 1901 to Conn. St. College; 1905 to St. Board; d. 1917

Locations:    Prof. of Biology Wesleyan University (1884 1917); Bacteriologist, Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station (1888 1906); Instr. Conn. State College (1901 1905); Dir. Conn. St. Dept. of Health, Lab. Div. (1905 1917); Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (1891 1897);

Training:      BS Boston Univ. 1881; PhD Bio. at Hopkins under Brooks 1884; Worked with Councilman at Johns Hopkins in 1881; visited Koch, Ostertag, Bang and Freudenreich in 1897 1898;

Fields:          biology; hygiene; dairy; BACT NOM; soil; GERMS

Publications: "Germ Diseases," New Princeton Review (1888); "The Germ Theory as a Subject for Teaching," Science (1888); "Bacteria in Milk and its Products," Bull. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. no. 4 (1889); "The Bacteria of Milk," Conn. Board of Agr. Report (1890): 28‑43; "The Fermentations of Milk and their Prevention," Rept. of Sec. of Conn. Board of Agr. (1891); from series Bacteria in the Dairy in Third Annual Report of the Storrs School Agricultural Exp. Station, 1890, "A Year's Experience with Bacillus no. 41 in General Dairying," "Further Experiments in Cream‑Ripening ‑‑ Flavor, Aroma, Acid," "The Ripening of Cream," "A Micrococcus of Bitter Milk," (all 1891); "Fermentations of Milk," USDA Off. of Exp. Stations. Bull. no. 9 (1892); "The Ripening of Cream by Artificial Bacteria Cultures," Bull. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. no. 12 (1894); "Further Experiments in Cream Ripening:  Flavor, Aroma, Acid," Bull. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. no. 16 (1896); "Is There a Solution of the Nitrogen Problem," Ann. Rept. of Penn. Board of Agr. (1898) "The Present Condition of Bovine Tuberculosis in Europe," Bull. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. no. 19 (1899); "Classification of Dairy Bacteria," Rept. of the Storrs Agr. Exp. Station (1899); "Microbes in Cheese Making," Popular Science Monthly (1900);

More Pubs:  An Elementary Physiology and Hygiene for Use in Schools (New York:  Silver, Burdett & Co., 1903, enl. ed. 1906); Introductory Physiology and Hygiene for Use in Primary Grades (New York:  Silver, Burdett and Co., 1904, enl. ed. 1906, rev. and enl. ed. 1911); Introductory Physiology and Hygiene for use In Intermediate Grades (New York:  Silver, Burdett and Co., 1908): An Elementary Physiology and Hygiene for Use in Upper Grammar Grades (New York:  Silver, Burdett & Co., 1909, rev. 1910, 1913); with R.A. Budington, Advanced Physiology and Hygiene for Use in Secondary Schools (New York:  Silver, Burdett and Co., 1909, rev. ed. 1919); Physiology and Health (Boston:  Silver, Burdett and Co., 1916); Story of Life's Mechanism (London:  Hodder and Stoughton, 1899, 1912); The Story of the Living Machine (London:  Newnes, 1899; New York:  D. Appleton, 1902; New York: McClure, Phillips, 1904, 1909, 1915); Evolution of To‑Day (New York:  G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1899, 1899, 1907); The Living World (New York:  G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1891); The Method of Evolution (New York:  Putnam, 1900, 1903); Social Heredity and Social Evolution:  The Other Side of Eugenics (New York:  Abingdon Press, 1914); Story of Germ Life (New York:  D. Appleton, 1897, 1898, 1903, 1904, 1909, 1912, 1912, 1915); Agricultural Bacteriology 2nd. ed. (Philadelphia:  P. Blakiston's Son, 1909, 3rd. ed. 1918); Bacteria, Yeasts, and Molds in the Home (Boston:  Ginn & Co., 1903, 1912, 1917); with H.J. Conn, Bacteriology (Baltimore:  Williams and Wilkins, 1923, 2nd ed. 1924, 3rd ed., 4th ed. 1929); with Esten and Stocking, "Classification of Dairy Bacteriology," Rept. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. (1906); "The Ripening of Cream," Bull. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. no. 21 (1900); "The Relation of Bovine Tuberculosis to that of Man and its Significance in the Dairy Herd, " Bull. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. no. 23 (1902); "The Relation of Temperature to the Keeping Property of Milk," Bull. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. no. 26 (1903); Bacteria in Milk and its Products (Philadelphia:  P. Blackiston's Sons, 1903); "Camembert Type of Soft Cheese in the U.S.," Bull. Storrs Agr. Exp. Sta. no. 35 (1905); Practical Dairy Bacteriology (New York:  O. Judd Co., 1907, 1908, 1914); "Some Uses of Bacteria," Conn. Agric. Rept. (1892); with J.S. Kingsley, "Some Observations on the Embryology of the Teleosts," Memoirs Boston Soc. of Nat. Hist. (1883): 183‑212; "A Preliminary Rept. on the Algae of the Fresh Waters of Conn.," St. Geological and Natural History Survey (1908); Biology: An Introductory Study for Use in Colleges (Boston:  Silver, Burdett, and Co., 1912); with H.J. Conn, Bacteriology 3rd ed. (Balt.:  Williams & Wilkins, 1936)

SAB Involvement:  Charter SAB member; Sec.‑Treas. 1900, 1901; SAB pres. 1902; member SAB Council 1907; founding member Lab. Section, APHA; SAB honorary member 1911

Presidential Address: no record exists

Archive Files: See Harding's "Early Bacteriology," 1938 p. 27; Rettger's 1937 histories of Connecticut; Kremer's Ref. Files, 1935; the Obit in Science (11 May 1917); D.H. Bergey, "Early Instructors in Bacteriology in the United States," J. of Bact. 2 (1917): 595‑601; W.M. Esten, "Professor H.W. Conn," Journal of Bacteriology 2 (1917): 501‑503; H.J. Conn, "A Religious Scientist at the Turn of the Century, Herbert William Conn of Wesleyan University," ms., ASM Archives; H. J. Conn, “Professor Herbert William Conn and the Founding of the Society,” Bact. Rev. 12, 275-296, 1948


     Eric ‑‑ get Conn's survey of bacteriology in medical schools.  Of the 29 respondents, Conn found that in 7 of these schools, the germ theory was in serious question. [1888: “Bacteriology in our Medical Schools” Science n.s. 11:267, 123-126 First page only; full article requires subscription]

     Conn's initial interest was in zoology, as a student of Brooks at Hopkins, and like Jordan and Sedgwick, he was an early convert to bacteriology.  Conn first became interested in bacteriology after hearing Farlow's lecture at Harvard on "Low Forms of Plant Life," in 1880.  His first introduction to bacteria was at Hopkins under Councilman in 1881, but he continued to occasionally publish papers in zoology for the majority of his career.

     Conn arrived at Wesleyan in 1884, with the task of reorganizing the "Dept. of Natural History" into a Dept. of Biology.  His primary interest was in evolution, but gradually moved primarily to bacteriology in the 1890's.

     In 1888, Conn was appointed bacteriologist of the Storrs station, in addition to his position as Prof. of Biology at Wesleyan.  At that time he began investigations on microorganisms responsible for fermentation in milk and ripening of cream.  In 1901, Conn came once a week to Storrs to deliver a course of evening lectures on pathogenic and non‑pathogenic bacteria to 4th year agriculture students at Conn. St. College.  Conn's research work was carried out entirely at Wesleyan until 1902, when a lab was established at Storrs, with W.A. Stocking as an assistant.

     A good deal of Conn's early work was on both dairy hygiene/sanitation and the productive role of dairy bacteria.  Conn was instrumental in the establishment of dairy certification laws in the 1890's.  In Esten's remembrances, Conn's "technical accomplishments were at times far from being exceptional, but he possessed extraordinary ability in directing work and in organizing factual material already obtained." 

     Another early research interest was on nitrogen fixation, and the role of nitrifying bacteria associated with legumes (1891).  He concluded in 1898, "The successful farmer of tomorrow will be the one who most skillfully regulates the growth of microorganisms..." (From Ann. Penn. Agr. 1898).  He attempted to determine the normal flora of soil bacteria, much like he had done for milk, finding that soils usually have between 5 and 10 percent spore formers (the B. subtilis group); under 10% rapidly liquefying non‑spore‑forming short rods with polar flagella (Ps. fluroescens); from 40 to 75% slowly liquefying or non‑liquefying non‑spore‑forming short rods; a few micrococci; and 5 to 12% actinomycetes.  Conn and Chester advanced a notion of an equilibrium, easily disturbed by outside influences. 

     Conn was the first of American workers in dairy bacteriology to attempt to market a commercial culture for butter, publishing a report of the initial findings as "The Ripening of Cream" in the Annual Rept. of the Storrs Station in 1890.  In 1890, he isolated bacterial enzymes from pure cultures that could, when added to milk, cause a curdling ans digestion.  In the fall of 1891, he announced a program to study the organisms responsible for the ripening of cream.  Later, Conn suggested the production of sanitary butter through the pasteurization of cream and the use of pure cultures.  In 1892, at the request of the USDA, he prepared an exhibit for the Columbian Exposition at Chicago to illustrate the relation of bacteria to dairying.  At the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893, he had charge of an exhibit of germ life and dairying.

     The exhibit consisted of 35 kinds of bacteria isolated from butter cultures, each with a number.  No. 2, at the time of the opening, produced the best flavor, while No. 16 the worse.  These two contrasting organisms were used daily for the production of butter at the fair, and visitors were encouraged to note the difference.  An upright case was installed to show some 40 test tubes containing pure cultures in milk.  The local papers covered the exhibit with lengthy descriptions.  During that summer, nine varieties were added, mostly from a can of milk from Uruguay, among them the infamous B41.

     He had isolated a culture labeled B41, and claimed it was responsible for the pleasant aroma and flavor in butter.  B41 was not a typical lactic acid bacterium.  While it produced acid in a small degree, it acted more upon the casein constituent of milk, rather than the sugar.

     Mr. Olin Douglas, a well known butter judge of that day, organized and distributed this culture, capitalizing on the standing of Prof. Conn.  Russell and Farington of Wisconsin tested this culture against the common Chris. Hansen starter material, and with Douglas as one of the judges, found B41 to be one of the worst products.  They published their findings as Bull 48 of the Wisc. Ag. Exp. Station and the Annual Rept. of 1895 and practically put an end to the sale of B41.

     Conn was an avid popularizer of science, and was not afraid to integrate social and political lessons into his writing.  For example, he wrote of the Germans during his visit in 1898:  "The German makes a first‑class citizen.  He is willing to obey without knowing any reason for it except that it is the law.  With good leaders the stoic, phlegmatic, unimaginative German can be led to almost anything, and they thus make the very best soldiers when things are all planned and go as planned." 

     In 1896 with Esten, Conn developed the litmus‑lactose‑gelatin (blue litmus gelatin) as a culture medium, which made it possible to isolate milk‑souring organisms.

     Around 1900, Conn became interested in the microorganisms of cheese.  He published a popular article in Popular Science Monthly in 1900, and in 1905 issued two reports with the USDA on Camembert Cheese. 

     In 1899, Conn published a classification of dairy bacteria, recognizing ten major groups:  I.  Fluorescent bacteria; II. Red chromogenic forms; III. Orange chromogenic forms; IV. Lemon‑yellow chromogenic forms; V. Non‑liquefying micrococci not included in II, III and IV; VI. Liquefying micrococci not included in II, III and IV; VII. Non‑liquifying rods which are not chromogenic; VIII. Liquefying bacillary forms without spores; IX. Liquefying bacilli with spores no larger than the rods; X. Liquefying bacilli with large spores causing the rods to be swollen at the time of sporulation.  BACT‑NOM.  This scheme was superseded by Conn's later report in 1906.

     At the 1899 meeting of SAB, Conn presented a paper on the "Natural Varieties of Bacteria," in which he demonstrated a highly variable micrococcus (with regard to chromogenesis and liquefaction), arguing that "all these varieties, with numerous intermediate stages, have been found in nature and are not the result of cultivation." He presented another paper on "Certain Practical Applications of Bacteriology to Dairying."  At the 1900 meeting, Conn considered "How Can Bacteria Be Satisfactorily Preserved for Museum Specimens?" which was discussed by McFarland, Abbott, Robin, Chester, Ward, Prescott, Park and Gorham.

     At the 1901 meeting, Conn and Esten presented "The Comparative Growth of Bacteria in Milk," in which he documents the changing flora, notes the initial germicidal property of milk, the non‑correlation between initial counts and numbers presented after 48 hours, and the origin of streptococci in the udder.  The paper was discussed by Welch, Sedgwick, and Harrison.

     Conn apparently did not present at the SAB again until 1910, when he delivered a general resume on the "Bacterial Flora in Milk." 

     In 1902, Conn proposed that he be sent by the Dept. of Agriculture to France to study Roquefort cheese.  Major Alvord did not support this proposition, since he was already intent on research in this area.  Sec. of Agriculture Wilson decided not to send anyone, and sponsored a cooperative project on mold‑ripened cheeses at Storrs, with Charles Thom as the mycologist.

     For several years, Conn was the director of the Summer School at Cold Spring Harbor.

     In 1905, Conn was able to convince the state Legislature to authorize a lab for the Board of Health.  Located on Wesleyan's campus, Conn was appointed the first director and given $3,000 a year.  Diagnostic work at that time was centered on tuberculosis, typhoid and diphtheria, later supplemented by examinations for rabies, malaria, glanders, syphilis, gonorrhea, and pneumonia.

     Conn and Esten were supported by one of the first Rockefeller Fellowships in 1907, to study market milk and plate counts.

     Regarding milk hygiene, Conn and Chapin collaborated in 1900 in the establishment of a medical milk commission in NYC.  Conn was appointed a member of the Commission on Milk Standards in 1910 (APHA???)  The Commission was created for the purpose of making recommendations that might be adopted by any city or town in the country for standardization, grading, and efficient control of milk production.

     Around 1905 or 1906, Conn gave up his activities at the Storrs station, and became director of the Conn. Board of Health Laboratory, thus shifting his chief interests from agricultural bacteriology to public health. 

     At the 1914 SAB meeting, Conn reported on "Standard Methods of Bacteriological Analysis of Milk," in which he reported on cooperative experiments in four laboratories in NYC to determine the reliability of the APHA standards.  This work was published the next year.  At the 1915 SAB, Conn issued the "Report of the Comm. on Standard Methods of Bacteriological Analysis of Milk."  The next year, he delivered a "Critical Survey of American Microbiology of Milk," and reported on the Committee upon Standard Methods of Milk Analysis.

     In Esten's Obit, he mentions that Conn "was at the front in the great advance made in biological science in the past thirty years, but at no time lost his deep interest in the social welfare of all mankind." (501)  Additionally, he was "always on the right side of all public and social problems" although he was given opportunities to "testify on the questionable side of public welfare controversies at large remuneration." (501)