1878 : MSU Professor Robert C. Kedzie Warns Legislature About Dangers of Lead

July 9, 2018 all-day

Professor Kedzie lectures on petroleum in the Chemical Laboratory he helped design, 1892. The door at left leads to the laboratory proper. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives.

On July 9, 1878, the Michigan State Board of Health was presented with information indicating using lead cups and cutlery could be dangerous.

Robert C. Kedzie, a physician and professor at what was then called State Agricultural College, was also president of the board. His research focused on the effects small, repeated doses of lead could have on people, especially children.

He warned against the use of lead as an alloy in cookware, and advocated for people to purchase the slightly more expensive “tin vessels.”

Source: Chicago Medical Journal Examiner

More information about Robert C. Kedzie:

Robert Clark Kedzie was born to William and Margaret Kedzie on January 28, 1823, in Delhi, New York, and moved to Michigan in 1826 with his family. Graduating from Oberlin College in 1846, he was in charge of the Rochester Academy, Michigan, for the next two years. After the death of his first wife, Mary J. Knowlton, in 1848, he entered the University of Michigan Medical College, receiving his M.D. in 1851. Now married to Harriet Eliza Fairchild, he practiced medicine in Kalamazoo and Vermontville for eleven years. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Kedzie, an abolitionist, joined the 12th Michigan Infantry as a surgeon. He was captured by the Confederates at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 and was released in poor health a few months later.

This illness led him to abandon his medical practice and to accept the position of Professor of Chemistry at Michigan Agricultural College in February 1863, where he taught until his death on November 7, 1902. During his forty years at M.A.C., Kedzie also served as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives (1867), as president of the Michigan Medical Society (1874), the Michigan State Board of Health (1877-1881), the American Public Health Association (1882), and the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science (1887-1889), and in other positions as well. In 1898, M.A.C. conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Science while the University of Michigan awarded him a Doctorate of Law in 1901.

Kedzie did much for Michigan through his study of medicine and chemistry. He assisted in securing the passage of an act which established a state food and dairy commission, and he was appointed its first state analyst. He secured the passage of a law providing for the inspection of commercial fertilizers. Upon discovering the hazards of arsenic-laced pigments used in wallpaper and other items, he fought to make such pigments illegal. Kedzie also ascertained that southern Michigan was well adapted for growing sugar beets and thus has been called “the father of the beet sugar industry in Michigan.”

Kedzie’s wife and two of his sons, William K. and Robert F., died before him. His third son, Frank S., survived him to eventually become president of M.A.C.

Source : Robert C. Kedzie Papers Available at MSU Archives and Historical Collections

For more information about Kedzie’s crusade against arsenic wall paper, see

Laura Bien, “In the Archives: Poison Pages – What’s so dangerous about wallpaper samples?”, Ann Arbor Chronicle, May 3, 2012.

Andrew Lundeen, “What is the deadliest book on your shelves?”, Spartan Ideas, April 29, 2015.

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