THEOBALD SMITH - 1859-1934

The year 2001 marks the 142th Anniversary of the birth of Theobald Smith, the greatest pioneer of American bacteriology for whom our Society is named. Dr. Smith's contributions to bacteriology and medical science were manifold and of far-reaching significance.
Of his many contributions, recorded in some 280 publications, Theobald Smith is perhaps best known for his work on Texas fever in cattle. He discovered the protozoan agent and the means of transmission by ticks, and opened the way for the explanation of the transmission of such human disease as yellow fever and African sleeping sickness. In later work, he clearly distinguished between the bovine and human types of tubercle bacilli. His work in immunology was also fundamental. He was one of the first to demonstrate the production of immunity by killed cultures of the disease organism, and to show that a mixture of diphtheria toxin and anti- toxin confers immunity. The observation that animals develop hypersensitivity to bacteria upon repeated injections was long known as the “Theobald Smith Phenomenon”. His numerous other contributions to science justify his renown as a bacteriologist, parasitologist, pathologist, physician, inventor, scholar and teacher.


Theobald Smith was born in Albany, New York on July 31, 1859. He was graduated from Cornell University in 1881 with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree and received his M.D. at Albany Medical College in 1883. From 1884-1895 he was director of the pathology laboratory of the Bureau of Animal Industry in the United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., where he investigated infectious disease of animals. During this period he also established a Department of Bacteriology at Columbia (now George Washington University).
Theobald Smith came to New Jersey in 1915 to become director of the Department of Animal Pathology at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in Princeton, where he remained until 1929, when he became emeritus director.
Dr. Smith was a member of numerous scientific and medical societies and association and held major offices in many of them. He was president of the American Associated of Pathologists and Bacteriologists, the American Society of Tropical Medicine, the Congress of American Physicians and Surgeons, and the International Society Against Tuberculosis. He was a Fellow of the AAAS., and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and Phi Kappa Phi. He received twelve honorary degrees from leading universities and eleven medals, among which was the Copley Gold Medal of the Royal Society, regarded as one of the highest scientific awards in the world.