Wisconsin Idea Series: Stephen Babcock Left a Mark on Wisconsin’s Dairy Industry

by Sylvan Bachhuber, age 14

Tucked on the west side of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is the Babcock Hall Dairy Store. While Babcock Hall is most famous for its ice cream, it also sells an assortment of dairy products, including a variety of award-winning cheeses and locally produced milk. Without the contribution of UW-Madison researcher Stephen Babcock, these products would not be as delicious as they are today.

In 1890, Stephen Babcock introduced the Babcock Test, a device that measure the fat content in milk, and therefore its quality as a whole. This test allowed for the standardization of milk quality according to its butterfat content. Because of this, pricing could be directly correlated to quality. No longer could farmers skim or water down their milk before selling it.

This test was so revolutionary that it won Babcock prizes at the Paris World Fair in 1900 and the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. The invention also won him a bronze metal from Wisconsin Governor LaFollette, and the Capper Award in 1930. These prestigious awards, however, did not provide Babcock with any financial gain because he never chose to patent his device. The only profit realized $5,000 prize from the Capper Award.

Babcock was a contributor in the development of the “cold storage” method of curing cheese, as well as many other inventions that greatly improved the manufacturing of dairy products. His advances in food science laid the ground for research in nutrition and the chemistry of vitamins, which eventually led to the discovery of vitamins A and D. Many of his inventions and discoveries are still used today by the UW-Madison in their production of dairy products.

Stephen Babcock contributed to both the state and the dairy industry as a whole. His dedication to the health of the state’s citizens makes his work an embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea. UW-Madison has rightfully named their dairy store after Babcock, ensuring that his name withstands the test of time.

[Source: Wisconsin Historical Society, Babcock Hall Dairy Store]

Enjoyed this article on Stephen Babcock. Good job! We will have some ice cream here the next time we visit! Love, Grandma Weakland – Therese WeaklandMuncie, IN (2014-03-14 22:41)