Brayton Howard Ransom was born in Missouri Valley, Iowa on March 24, 1879. He graduated from the University of Nebraska with a B.S. degree in 1899, an M.S. degree in 1900, and a Ph.D. in 1908. Ransom studied medicine at George Washington University, and became known as a specialist in medical zoology.
Ransom began his public service career in 1902 as a zoology assistant in the Hygienic Laboratory of the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service (predecessor of the National Institutes of Health). In 1903 he became the assistant in charge of the Zoological Laboratory of the USDA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI). He was soon promoted, at age 24, to succeed Charles Wardell Stiles as principal zoologist and chief of the Zoological Division. He served in this role until his sudden death on September 17, 1925 at the age of 46.
Many important discoveries and scientific advances were made in the Zoological Division under Ransom’s leadership, often resulting in practical applications that reached beyond the laboratory to improve food safety, human and veterinary medicine, and livestock production. Among these accomplishments was the experimental work done by Ransom and his colleagues on the effects of temperature on Trichinella spiralis larvae, which led to the development of meat handling measures that prevented the transmission of trichinosis. Ransom was also instrumental in developing the McLean County (Illinois) System of Swine Sanitation, which helped pork producers control losses from animal disease and improve their marketable products.
Ransom was a founding member of both the Helminthological Society of Washington and the American Society of Parasitologists. He was actively involved in many national and international scientific organizations. In addition, as chief of the BAI’s Zoological Division, he served as assistant custodian of the helminthological collections of the U.S. National Museum.
Andrews, John S. “Animal Parasitology in the United States Department of Agriculture, 1886-1984.” In 100 Years of Animal Health 1884-1984, edited by Vivian D. Wiser, Larry Mark, H. Graham Purchase, and Associates of the National Agricultural Library, 113–65. Beltsville, MD: Associates of the National Agricultural Library, Inc., 1987.
“Dr. Ransom Dead; Noted Zoologist.” Washington Herald, September 19, 1925.
Hall, Maurice C. “Brayton Howard Ransom.” Science 62, no. 1606 (October 9, 1925): 319-20.