The Wilbur Olin Atwater Papers span over a century, from 1882 through 1993. The collection was compiled in the 1990s by Sandy Facinoli, Food and Nutrition Information Center Coordinator, in preparation for a symposium to honor Atwater's 100th anniversary. She placed the materials at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, and in 1998, director Joseph Spence donated the collection to Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, for proper storage and processing. The collection which contains early United States Department of Agriculture dietary guidance includes biographical information, correspondence, publications, photographs, and data sheets. It is 12.75 linear feet and occupies 6 archival boxes. Materials are in good condition. There are no restrictions on use of the collection.
Rachel Telford, Special Collections Intern, National Agricultural Library, completed the processing in 2008.
Finding Aid File
May 3, 1844: Born, Johnsburg, New York.
1865: Graduated with a general degree from Wesleyan University.
1868: Entered Yale University's Sheffield Scientific School where he studied agricultural chemistry and performed the first chemical analysis of food or feed in the United States.
1869: Completed Yale University doctoral thesis: "The proximate composition of several varieties of American maize." His interest in animal nutrition led to his research in human nutrition. Spent two years at Leipzig and Berlin studying physiological chemistry and familiarizing himself with European agricultural experiment stations.
1871: Became Professor of Chemistry at East Tennessee University (now the University of Tennessee).
1872: Became Professor of Chemistry at Maine State College (now the University of Maine).
1873: Became Professor of Chemistry at Wesleyan University.
1875: Became the first director of the first United States Experiment Station at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut.
1879-1882: Conducted extensive studies of human food for the United States Fish Commission and the Smithsonian Institute.
1887: Congress passed the Hatch Act establishing federal support of state experiment stations and a United States Department of Agriculture Office of Experiment Stations, Atwater became the first chief of the office while maintaining his professorship at Wesleyan. While chief of the Office of Experiment Stations, Atwater instituted new publications - "Experiment Station Record" and "Farmers Bulletin" - to provide research information to experiment stations and farmers.
1891: Resigned as chief of the Experiment Stations because the position entailed full-time management. Appointed special agent in charge of nutrition programs for the United States Department of Agriculture. He developed plans for studies and experiments in the areas of food nutrition, the effects of food processing on nutrient changes, food consumption studies, and human nutrient requirements and metabolism. Believing that diet and nutrition were related to labor power, health, and the moral tone of individuals, Atwater devoted his energies to extensive chemical and statistical research on the human diet, overseeing numerous food consumption studies.
Scope and Content Note
The Wilbur Olin Atwater Papers comprise 12.75 linear feet of biographical information, correspondence, publications, photographs, and data sheets. The collection includes materials from 1882 through 1993, with the majority of the materials dating between 1882 and 1907. It contains details of Atwater's study of the chemical composition of various foods, and his development and experiments with respiration and bomb calorimeters. This collection is significant in documenting the history of United States Department of Agriculture as it contains early dietary guidance. Atwater was a pioneer in the study of nutrition, and many of his areas of research, including the nutritive value of foods, and the dietary and economic needs of low-income families, are still emphasized in USDA programs today.
Series I consists of research notes and materials gathered together in preparation for a new biography on Atwater, likely "W.O. Atwater: A Centenary Guide to the Life and Work of the Pioneer Nutritionist." This work, published in CD-ROM form, also contains documents and photographs both from this collection, and from the Wesleyan University Archives.
Series II contains original correspondence including copies and transcripts of Atwater's letters to his colleagues at Wesleyan including Edward Bennett Rosa, Charles Dayton Woods, Ewald Wollny, and C.A. Rosenthal, dating from 1882-1894, regarding their research at Wesleyan and Atwater's life and work in Paris. Also included is correspondence regarding Atwater, dating between 1973 and 1993. The more recent materials include correspondence between scholars regarding a biography and exhibit honoring Atwater's work. Additionally, this series contains magnetic media.
Series III contains publications by Atwater or about Atwater and his work. Atwater's works were published between 1885 and 1907, and biographical works are dated 1974 and 1993. Publications written by Atwater include United States Department of Agriculture bulletins, and an annual report of the Agricultural Experiment Station in Storrs, Connecticut. Also included are published biographies, and an unfavorable response to Atwater's work regarding the nutritional value of alcohol, published by several Christian Temperance organizations. This series also includes a paper by Atwater's daughter, Helen Atwater, titled "Economic Aspects of the Home and Family."
Series IV contains photographs of Atwater throughout his career, and of experiment subjects demonstrating the types of tasks performed within the calorimeter, such as cleaning, ironing, riding a stationary bicycle and reading. These tasks were performed inside the calorimeter in order to study the energy expended during specific activities. The calorimeter consisted of a room, with arrangements for analyzing the composition of the incoming and outgoing air, in which a subject's carbon dioxide output is measured. A later modification also allowed measurement of oxygen uptake. The series also includes numerous internal, external and detail images of Atwater's calorimeters, and of researchers at work in the lab. Additionally, this series includes photographic images of various publications and correspondence. The majority of the photographs date between 1892 and 1907.
Series V contains data sheets documenting Atwater's studies of the chemical composition of various foods. This was the beginning of a federal role in gathering and disseminating food composition data for foods eaten in the United States. The data sheets are numbered and arranged by type of food. Categories include fruits, vegetables, grains, bread, fish, dairy, and meats.
Series I. Biographical Information. 1911, 1926, n.d. .25 boxes.
Series I consists of biographical information gathered as research for a biography of Wilbur Olin Atwater. Materials include publications, and researcher's notes, and arranged in the researcher's original order.
Series II. Correspondence. 1882-1993. .5 boxes.
Series II consists of Wilbur Olin Atwater's correspondence, dated from 1882-1894, and correspondence regarding Atwater, dated 1973, 1988, and 1993. Materials are arranged chronologically.
Series III. Publications. 1895-1993, n.d. .5 boxes.
Series III consists of publications, including those written by and about Wilbur Olin Atwater. Materials are arranged chronologically.
Series IV. Photographs. 1865-1907. .75 boxes.
Series IV consists of photographs of Wilbur Olin Atwater, Atwater's students, subjects of his experiments, calorimeters, and photographic copies of publications and correspondence. The materials are arranged into 5 subseries, and are arranged chronologically within each subseries.
Subseries IV.A. Portraits.
This subseries contains portraits of Wilbur Olin Atwater at various points in his career, from his graduation portrait, to an image of him late in life, in his office at Wesleyan.
Subseries IV.B. Students.
This subseries contains images of Atwater's students at Wesleyan University.
Subseries IV.C. Publications & Correspondence.
This subseries contains photographic images of publications and correspondence by Atwater. Also included are images of the Wilbur Olin Atwater Memorial Lectureship Seal.
Subseries IV.D. Experiment Subjects.
This subseries includes images of Atwater's experiment subjects demonstrating activities performed inside the calorimeter, such as ironing, cleaning, reading, and riding a stationary bicycle.
Subseries IV.E. Calorimeters and a Bicycle Ergometer.
This subseries contains images of two different calorimeters and a bicycle ergometer, taken from various angles.
Series V. Data Sheets. n.d. 4 boxes.
Series V consists of data sheets documenting Atwater's studies of the nutritional value of various foods. Materials are arranged according to the creator's numbering system, with like foods grouped together. Categories include Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Bread, Fish, Dairy, and Meats.
Appendix A: Related Collections
Atwater Family Papers, Special Collections & Archives, Wesleyan University.
Wilbur Olin Atwater Papers, 1876-1903, Special Collections and Archives, Wesleyan University.
Wilbur Olin Atwater Papers, Film 4, University of Pennsylvania Libraries.
Wilbur Olin Atwater Papers, #2223. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
Appendix B: Related Materials in the General Collection
Atkinson, Edward, Ellen Henrietta Richards, Mary W. Abel, Maria, Daniell, Wilbur Olin Atwater. The science of nutrition. Springfield, MA : Bryan, 1891. NAL Call Number 389.1 At5S
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. The chemical composition and nutritive values of food-fishes and aquatic invertebrates. Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1891. NAL Call Number 389.1 At9C
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. Experiments on the effects of tillage on soil moisture; Meteorological observations ; Grass and forage garden. Mansfield, Connecticut. : Storrs School, Agricultural Experiment Station, 1888. NAL Call Number 100 C76S no.2
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. Field experiments with fertilizers. [1880?]. NAL Call Number 57.07 At9F
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. Foods : nutritive value and cost. Washington, D.C. : U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1894. NAL Call Number 1 Ag84F no.23
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. Methods and results of investigations on the chemistry and economy of food. Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1895. NAL Call Number 389 At9M.
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. Principles of nutrition and nutritive value of foods. U.S. Department of Agriculture: Washington, D.C., 1910. NAL Call Number 1 Ag84F no.142
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. Report of field experiments with fertilizers : 1880. Connecticut : Connecticut Board of Agriculture for 1880, 1880. NAL Call Number IPM000913308
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. [Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station]. Mansfield, Connecticut. : Storrs School, Agricultural Experiment Station, 1888. NAL Call Number 100 C76S no.1
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. Summary of annual report for 1891. Storrs, Connecticut : Storrs School Agricultural Experiment Station, 1893. NAL Call Number 100 C76S no.8
Atwater, Wilbur Olin. Summary of annual report for 1892. Storrs, Connecticut : Storrs School Agricultural Experiment Station, 1893. NAL Call Number 100 C76S no.11
Atwater, Wilbur Olin, and Charles Dayton Woods. The chemical composition of American food materials. Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1896. NAL Call Number 1 Ex6B no. 28
Atwater, Wilbur Olin, and Charles Dayton Woods. Chemistry and economy of food. Storrs, Connecticut : Storrs School Agricultural Experiment Station, 1891. NAL Call Number 100 C76S no.7
Atwater, Wilbur Olin, and Charles Dayton Woods. Food investigations and publications. Storrs, Connecticut : Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station, 1895. NAL Call Number 100 C76S no.15
Carpenter, Kenneth J., Sandy Facinoli, Patricia B. Swan, eds. W.O. Atwater: A Centenary Guide to the Life and Work of the Pioneer Nutritionist. United States Department of Agriculture, 1995. NAL Call Number TX353.W6 1995
Gibson, Howard Beers, Sidney Calvert, David William May, Wilbur Olin Atwater, and Charles Dayton Woods. Dietary studies at the University of Missouri in 1895, and data relating to bread and meat consumption in Missouri. Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1896. NAL Call Number 1 EX6B NO.31
International Life Sciences Institute. W.O. Atwater Centennial Celebration Symposium : program and abstracts : an evaluation of progress in human nutrition: June 2-4, 1993. Washington D.C. 1993. NAL Call Number QP141.A1W6