Subsistence Research Laboratory
Colonel G. F. Doriot, Q.M.C.*
The Quartermaster Review – March-April 1944
History of the Quartermaster Subsistence Research Laboratory
A QUARTER of a century ago at this Depot a new procedure in Army subsistence was inaugurated. A step was taken which was to revolutionize the whole subject of troop feeding. In the fall of 1920 the Quartermaster Corps Subsistence School began its first classes. Experience with untrained men in World War I had convinced the QMC that in some future war an untrained supply service might not be able to overcome subsistence difficulties readily, and that it was essential for the Army to have well-trained commissary specialists.
This persistent general opinion in the QMC finally brought the School into existence. Two men who did much toward its establishment were Brigadier Generals A. S. Kuiskern and C. R. Krauthoff.
The main function of the School was to instruct selected officers and enlisted men regarding the procurement, processing, inspection, transportation, storage, and issuing of subsistence supplies, and this course of instruction was to supply the Army with a nucleus of trained subsistence specialists.
The Commanding Officer of the Chicago Depot was always considered the Commandant of the School, and the first Assistant Commandant was Major Norris Stayton. The Army itself was so short of qualified instructors that a civilian, Mr. F. J. Butler, was engaged as technical adviser, and Dr. Jesse H. White was transferred from the Navy (Veterinary Department) as a technical expert. Other Assistant Commandants of the School were Major (now Major General) Robert M. Littlejohn; Captain (now Colonel) Robert T. Willkie; and Captain (now Colonel) Paul P. Logan. It was due to the earnest endeavors of these pioneers that the work of the Subsistence School soon attracted widespread attention.
Only two students were enrolled in the first class at the School. The following year there were sixteen students, and the course was lengthened. As no suitable printed material was available for textbooks, the staff prepared its own training manuals. Fifty two monographs appeared between 1920 and 1936, among them The Army Cook and The Army Baker. The importance of the latter can hardly be estimated as the best of food can be completely spoiled if improperly prepared.
Beginning in 1922, the Navy sent Supply Corps officers to the School every year. In 1926 the Marine Corps followed the Navy’s example, and the School each year attracted many U. S. officers outside of the Quartermaster Corps.
In June 1936 the Subsistence School was merged with the general Quartermaster School at Philadelphia, and part of the technical library and equipment was transferred to Philadelphia.
Hardly had the School been merged before it was benefit from a laboratory devoted to research in Army subsistence problems, and the growing world crisis foreshadowed the imminent necessity for new and better emergency rations. It was felt that such a research laboratory, with teaching eliminated from its program, would serve an entirely new function–that of providing the Quartermaster Corps with the new subsistence developments made necessary by the changing conditions of warfare.
On July 24, 1936, the School reopened in Chicago as the Quartermaster Corps Subsistence Research Laboratory. The new laboratory was authorized to test foods and design modern packaging of foods; to prepare drafts of proposed specifications and modify those which became obsolete; to conduct studies and make analyses of various reserve and emergency rations or components thereof; to prepare informative bulletins and maintain liaison with other government agencies.
The Laboratory staff began with three members, two of whom were graduates of the Subsistence School, the third a civilian expert who had taught at the School during its entire existence. Paucity of funds and of personnel limited research, but with the cooperation of industry, the willing hearts and hands of the limited staff, and only a few hundred dollars, boneless beef was developed and Field Rations C and D were partially developed.
During the first stages of the present emergency the Laboratory was rapidly expanded. On August 15, 1939, Colonel Rohland A. Isker became Commanding Officer of the Laboratory. Because of his knowledge, his training, and his vision, Colonel Isker was eminently suited to assume this responsibility.
The Laboratory staff, which had begun with three members, by September 1941 totaled thirteen, and by April 1942 had twenty-two members. The clerical and administrative staff had grown accordingly. Today the staff numbers several score highly trained technical men, one of the most noteworthy of whom is Lt. Col. Jesse H. White, who has been on the staff of the School or Laboratory since its organization. Although retired from the Army in September 1943, Colonel White continues his valued work as a civilian.
The Laboratory is primarily an administrative center for the initiation, direction, and coordination of research. This coordination involves the Army, other armed services, the universities, federal agencies, and food industries. The Laboratory undertakes to correlate the research being done and adapt it to military use. The technical laboratory, however, is equipped for testing and developmental work. Chemical, bacteriological, and vitamin studies and analyses are made; foodstuffs are tested for susceptibility to bacterial spoilage and insect infestation; vitamin stability in ration components is investigated; and many other research projects are conducted.
Army-Navy subsistence is coordinated through a Navy liaison officer stationed in the Laboratory; Air Corps experiments are carried out with the Aero Medical Research Laboratory; and close liaison is maintained with the Veterinary Corps. Specifications, inspection, and instruction manuals receive constant attention.
The critical period of 1940-41 found the Laboratory at work on ration problem of the K ration, special Air Corps rations, combat and emergency ration — subsistence under all conditions. The newest ration is the versatile 10-in-1. Laboratory research contributions have been made to dehydration, to compression of foodstuffs, packaging, conservation, storage, transportation-in fact to every aspect of subsistence.
With the expansion of laboratory activities space has become inadequate, and today we have come to inspect the new Quartermaster Corps Subsistence Research and Development Laboratory which has emerged from the small School of 1920.
Let us pay homage to the staff whose untiring efforts produce modern miracles; and to the men who foresaw this crisis and gradually prepared the nucleus of trained men capable of directing subsistence in the 1943 brand of warfare. Let us also acknowledge our appreciation to industry, educational institutions, and federal agencies for their cooperation in solving our food problems. It is such combined cooperation that enables us to win wars.
*An address delivered at the dedication of the new Quartermaster Corps Subsistence Research and Development Laboratory in Chicago on January 8th (1944) – Ed.