1 54 Mr. Babcock s Invention Introduction In the late 1800s, Wisconsin farmers were struggling to improve the dairy industry. One of their most serious problems was the inconsistent quality of milk. Since milk sold by weight, some farmers cheated and mixed water into their milk. Others skimmed the rich cream from the milk. Diluted milk damaged the reputation of everyone in the dairy industry. Dairy farmers who worked hard to provide high-quality milk were naturally upset. Shoppers complained that they never knew what kind of milk they were buying. Stephen M. Babcock, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, began studying the problem. Professor Babcock understood that the best way to measure the quality of milk was to test the amount of butterfat contained in the milk. The test that was available was too slow and expensive for farmers. Working alone in a laboratory, Babcock spent several weeks devising a new method of measuring butterfat. Sylvia a Jersey cow owned by the university happily provided the milk. Professor Babcock combined an inexpensive chemical and a centrifuge and discovered an easy method of testing for butterfat. Within a few years the Babcock Test was in every dairy. The method of selling milk quickly changed. Farmers with the best quality milk Vocabulary inconsistent: (in con sis tunt) changing, variable, or shifting centrifuge: (sen tru fyooj) a machine that spins and separates the ingredients in a liquid
2 55 received top dollar. Invented in Wisconsin, the Babcock Test helped improve consumers views about all dairy products. Over a long career this brilliant scientist made other important discoveries. He helped make Wisconsin The Dairy State. The following play demonstrates how Babcock s invention had a major impact on Wisconsin and the dairy industry and improved the quality of food across the United States. A short script, the cast consists of only four individuals. SCENE 1 Narrator: In 1890, people were complaining about the milk for sale in stores. Sometimes it tasted good, other times it didn t. Then Stephen Babcock, a professor of agricultural chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, looked for a way to test milk. As the curtain opens, we see Professor Babcock entering a general store. Mr. Babcock s Invention Cast Narrator Stephen M. Babcock, University of Wisconsin professor Mr. Jensen, storekeeper Fred Marshall, friend Suggested Props raincoat hat box (centrifuge) glass tube milk bottle spoonful of flour or sugar (sulfuric acid) By Linda Anderson Professor Stephen M. Babcock
3 56 Jensen: Good afternoon, Babcock. How are you today? Babcock: Quite wet, Mr. Jensen. (Takes off raincoat) It s raining hard. Jensen: It certainly is! (pauses) My son told me about the lecture you gave last night at the University. He likes your ideas. Babcock: I hope he learned something. I talked about soil composition. It s important for our young farmers to know the ingredients of good soil. Jensen: Yes, that s what he said. (another pause) Is there something I can get for you, Mr. Babcock? Babcock: Yes, I came to buy some milk. How I wish that I could get really rich milk! (Holds up hands) Please don t misunderstand, Mr. Jensen. I know you stock the best you can find. Professor Babcock at the University of Wisconsin experimental farm Jensen: I m not happy with the milk either. I have a hunch that someone has been adding water to make it go farther. Babcock: If only there were some way to measure butterfat in milk! Then we could pay farmers by the amount of butterfat instead of the amount of milk they bring in. It would be fair to everybody. Farmers with rich milk would no longer complain that they get no more money than people who bring in watered-down milk. Jensen: Yes, that would be good everyone would be happier. But it sounds impossible. Babcock: Oh, I don t know about that... Jensen: (eagerly) Professor is there a way to measure butterfat?
4 57 Babcock: I don t know, Jensen, but I shall certainly think about it. Jensen: Well, I hope you think about it right away. I d like to see things change, soon. Babcock: (laughing) We ll see... we ll see. (Picks up bottle of milk and leaves the store) Narrator: That night Stephen Babcock sat down with pencil and paper and thought about a way to measure butterfat in milk. He didn t find one, but, being a determined person, he kept on thinking. Finally, he came up with an idea he wanted to try. Boys measure butterfat, Balsalm Lake Elementary School, early 1900s SCENE 2 Narrator: It is now several months later. Professor Babcock is in his laboratory at the University. He is finishing a model of his butterfat machine. Babcock: (Talking to himself) There now, just a few more minutes and I ll be done. (There is a knock at the door. Babcock goes to the door and opens it.) Why, Fred! How nice to see you. Come in, come in. How are you? Marshall: Fine, Stephen. You certainly look pleased with yourself. I ve come to see how your new invention measures butterfat. Babcock: It s over here. (They walk to a table and look at the model.) I m almost finished. Marshall: So this is the butterfat tester I ve heard so much about... how does it work? Babcock: Well, I take some milk and put it into one of these glass tubes. (Picks up the glass tube and shows it to Marshall) Then I add acid to the milk... Marshall: That s sulfuric acid, isn t it? What does it do?
5 58 Babcock: It dissolves everything in the milk except the fat. Then, the butterfat floats to the top because it is lighter than the acid and what is left of the milk. Marshall: I see. Then you just measure the amount of butterfat by those markings on the side of the glass tube? Babcock: That s the idea, Fred. But first I have to give the mixture a good spin in this centrifuge machine. (Shows Marshall the tester) Then anything that is not fat sinks to the bottom of the tube. Then what is left at the top is pure butterfat. Narrator: Professor Babcock s invention could have made him a rich man. But he refused to patent his milk tester. He said that he was hired by the University of Wisconsin to serve the people of Wisconsin. Professor Babcock continued to help farmers and city people. His experiments in feeding cows led to the discovery of vitamin A. The professor s research helped to enrich our world. Marshall: Your tester really does measure the exact amount of butterfat in milk from any cow! Babcock: Yes, by using this method we can grade the milk and keep the quality excellent. Marshall: That sounds wonderful. But storekeeper Jensen is telling everyone that your test will make milk taste better. How can that be? Babcock: Now, farmers will be paid according to the amount of butterfat in their milk. It would be foolish for anyone to add water. Water would just lower the fat content and the price the farmer gets. Now, farmers will work to improve their milk to get a higher price for their efforts. At Babcock Hall, on the UW Madison campus, it s easy to enjoy being The Dairy State! Madison Newspapers