Dr. North and the Kansas City Milk War

By Bill Kovarik, PhD
Based on a conference paper to AEJMC, 1989.


One of the last  vestiges of the era of yellow journalism was an editorial “war” between the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Post during the summer and fall of 1921 over the unlikely topic of milk pasteurization.

Editors at the Star, a champion of main street interests and progressive Republican respectability, often had to defend  against attacks by owners of the Post, which was associated with the Denver Post and well known for its pursuit of scandals, lurid crimes, and sex sagas.

When a nationally known public health expert named Charles North came to Kansas in the summer of 1921, the Post (oddly) became his vehicle for a campaign for mandatory milk pasteurization.

North and the Post fired sensationalistic broadsides, accusing  the town of Kansas City and the Kansas City Star  of complicity in “killing babies.” Only pasteurization of milk could clear up epidemics ravaging the nation, North claimed.  The Star, as a champion of small dairy farmers, opposed economic concentration of the industry that would result from a centralized pasteurization system.

This article explores an unknown incident in the history of journalism which raises questions about the use of sensationalism as a vehicle for arousing public interest in the details of scientific controversy.


Controversies over science and technology are often seen as recent phenomena, and modern observers have assumed that scientific issues were  “largely  unquestioned” until the past few decades. [1] In some cases, it is true, scientific controversies never received even remotely adequate attention. [2]  However, historical research is turning up a large number of open  controversies involving science and technology. The battle over smallpox inoculation in Boston in 1721 is an early example. [3] William Randolph Hearst’s use of Lederle Laboratories in 1906 to expose sewage contamination of oyster beds and ice houses is another. [4]   Yet another is the 1924 air pollution controversy over  the introduction of lead as an octane booster in gasoline. [5] Also, research into food and drug controversies and patent medicine abuse at the turn of the century [6] shows the value of  new interdisciplinary efforts in the history of science and the history of journalism.

Controversies in science and technology usually involve either local  problems, such as milk and water sanitation, or national level problems, such as  air pollution, impure foods and drugs, and occupational dangers. In many cases, an emerging science or technology exposed (or caused) the problem before a solution or an alternative was recognized. For example, concerns about impure milk were not new. Public health advocates voiced concerns as early as 1824 in the U.S., and the press found an interest as early as 1858, when Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper gave extensive coverage to the “swill milk” scandal, [7] which involved overt  adulteration.

By the turn of the century, public health advocates were worried  about the unseen agents in food contamination. Scientists were able to establish verifiable cause and-effect relationships between bacterial contamination and milk handling procedures which raised serious questions about the nature of the commercial milk distribution system.  While the problem was fully understood by about 1906, the solution — pasteurization —  was not nearly as obvious as it might appear today. But as pasteurization technology was brought in line with the science of bacteriology, public health advocates began arguing more and more vehemently for laws requiring the process. The now-forgotten fights over milk pasteurization took place in virtually every city in the nation between 1910 and 1930. Controversy first broke out in big East Coast cities. Compromise between public health advocates, who wanted mandatory pasteurization, and the producers of unpasteurized “raw” milk was necessary in part because the technology of pasteurization was not mature. [8] After World War I, the controversy over pasteurization took on a new character, centering in the Midwest and involving increasingly vocal public health reformers.

When the battle began brewing in  Kansas City in the summer of 1921, the rest of the Midwest looked on with interest. Despite the city’s central role in midwestern affairs, and despite the city’s longstanding newspaper feud, many people were caught off guard when the milk fight and the related newspaper war broke down into a loud shouting match. The city’s dairy commissioner, who attended a professional convention in the fall of 1921, reported that he had been asked by colleagues, “What was ailing Kansas City?” [9]

Origins of the Milk Controversy

Milk  has been used for food since the dawn of history. Today, it has a reputation that puts it on a par with mom, apple pie and the flag. [10] This  reputation was not so benign at the beginning of the 20th century. Dozens of U.S. and European epidemiological and bacteriological studies demonstrated a relationship between frequently contaminated milk and typhoid, scarlet fever and cholera epidemics. One study showed that the 10 percent infant mortality rate in New York City in 1903 was strongly linked to contaminated milk, while another found that over eight percent of Boston’s milk was contaminated by tuberculosis. [11] In 1901, USDA noted that out of 330 well known epidemics in the mid to late 1800s, some 295 occurred in England or America. “This is probably due to the fact that the English and Americans consume raw milk while on the continent, milk is rarely consumed without being  boiled,” the study concluded. [12] Machines based on Louis Pasteur’s new science of bacteriology had become common in Europe, [13] and reached the US in the 1890s. In 1896, an article in the Baltimore News American  carried a picture of a baby bottle sterilizer at work. [14] But this bottle by bottle processing did not address problems of widespread contamination in the general milk supply.

On the East Coast,  city commissions began calling for mandatory pasteurization of all milk around 1910, and the issue rapidly became political. A Boston Herald cartoon of 1912 depicted a legislator caught between milk producers and dealers as the figure of death grinned from the background at an infant. [15] Hearst’s Journal also carried editorials attacking the dairy industry and calling for strict laws. [16]

Not everyone was convinced that pasteurization would stop epidemics. The early “flash pasteurizers” not only did not kill disease-causing bacteria, but even worse, defective pasteurizers helped milk dealers disguise sour milk and resell it. Moreover, the new technology proved to be threatening to small farmers, who “were fighting with their backs to the wall, violently opposed” to local and state laws for pasteurization.[17] Since there were 50 small dairies for every one large dairy,  “the fight took on the appearance of a few large dealers trying to put the small ones out of business and gain a monopoly.” [18]

This held true even in the face of typhoid epidemics. For example, even after several deaths from typhoid in the milk supply, milk dealers in Danville, Va. “say the proposed (mandatory pasteurization) law will drive men out of business,” the Baltimore Sun reported. [19]

Requiring all milk to go through a few pasteurizers didn’t make life easier for dairy farmers and milk distributors who faced already complex market problems. After a 1916 revision of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, strikes by groups of industry workers against a number of employers could legally take place, and dozens of strikes occurred in the dairy industry. In the summer and fall of 1921, when the Kansas City newspaper war broke out,  New York City and Cincinnati, among others,  were embroiled in milk delivery strikes over basic issues of wages, hours and benefits. Such controversies, whether involving  wage and hour issues or public health issues, received a consistently high amount of coverage from local newspapers. A milk strike or a pasteurization order today would probably be ignored by the media, and this reflects a shift in news emphasis  away from the homespun dilemmas of everyday life to our current global arena of events and ideas. But in 1921, the supply of milk had just begun to exceed demand following World War I, and news about the dairy industry was taken seriously.

The Kansas City Press 

Milk  pasteurization was controversial in many locations, but nowhere did the advocates and opponents of the new technology lock horns as publicly or violently as Kansas City in 1921. Much of the reason for this has to do with the nature of the two major Kansas City newspapers, the Star and the Post.

The Star was a crusading paper, well known for its progressive views and high  standards of journalism.  From its founding in 1880, publisher  William Rockhill Nelson hired detectives to investigate rigged elections, waged unrelenting war on gang rule, and led a strident crusade against crooked lotteries. In the process, Nelson made an enemy in one lottery owner, Fred G. Bonfils, who fled to Colorado.  [20] In 1895, Bonfils and partner Harry H. Tammen became owners of their first newspaper, the Denver Post.  The two  men bought their  second newspaper, the Kansas City Post, in 1909,  with revenge against Nelson “undoubtedly” on their  minds. [21]   By that time, Bonfils and  Tammen were well known as the most bizarre yellow journalists in America. The Denver Post  mounted wild attacks on public figures  and was considered an outright disgrace  to journalism.[22]

It was known for its startling red and black headlines and for an executive office with red walls called the “bucket of blood.” Yet the Denver Post  often posed as a champion of the people. Tammen once claimed: “Yes, we’re yellow, but we’re read and we’re true blue.”  [23]

Bonfils and Tammen reflected a reckless frontier journalism translated into the “yellow” era of the 1890s and early 1900s. Personal attacks between newspapermen were certainly nothing new to Kansas. One editor of wrote of a colleague at the Leavenworth Kansas Times that even dogs would pass him by, “writhing in agony in search of a cleaner post.” [24] But that was the 1870s,  when the public had an appreciation for this entertaining form of journalism. The men who fought with “quills, type-sticks and six-guns,” had all passed away — except Bonfils and Tammen.

Progressive, conservative, even tame,  Kansas City now had a newspaper that provided residents with enough crime news and sex sagas “to have sent the Marquis de Sade to a hermitage,” according to historian Gene Fowler. [25] The Kansas City Post constantly berated the crusading Star. While Nelson tried to  ignore it, and the feud between the two papers became so bitter that he advised  reporters and editors that to even read the Post was to risk summary dismissal. The two newspapers fought over many issues, even after Nelson died in 1915, but the Kansas City milk fight of 1921 was the bitter end for an antiquated form of journalism.

Any issue could have touched off one last fight. As it was, an independent expert came into a thicket of political factions, media rivalries and technical issues determined to ignite any combustibles that might be handy. The expert  was Dr. Charles E. North.

Who was Charles E. North?z

If saving lives were a criteria for fame, Dr. Charles E. North might  be listed among the nation’s most important scientists. As it was, however, North died in relative obscurity, his accomplishments unrecognized even by the industry councils he helped organize.

A quick inspection of any milk carton shows the result of his work: “Pasteurized, Homogenized, Grade A.” The fact that all milk is pasteurized owes virtually everything to North’s crusades and his inventions between 1906 and 1930. The process of homogenization, which mixes up various components of milk, owes something to North’s mechanical inventions during the 1930s and ’40s. And the “Grade A” label is also North’s, invented in 1910 and originally designed to indicate which milk had the lowest bacteria counts [10,000/cc unpasteurized, or two times lower than today’s Grade A Pasteurized standard] and would therefore be safe for very young children.  [26]

North grew up on a dairy farm in New York. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1893 and his M.D. at Columbia University in 1900. He also studied public
health at Harvard.  Early in his career, North led commissions which came up with rules for sanitary dairies and testing milk. By 1912, one commission he headed began  advocating mandatory pasteurization. As a result, New York City turned to strong pasteurization laws and tight regulations for unpasteurized “raw” milk, which had to be “Grade A.”  Dozens of other cities followed between 1912 and the late 1920s, and North set up an independent “Public Health Bureau” that consulted with  over 50 state and city governments.

North was probably influenced by the long struggle of Louis Pasteur for recognition of his theories. A recent book, “The Pasteurization of France,” demonstrates how the Pasteur’s success, which had tremendous social impacts on everything from handling food to performing surgery, actually hinged on a concerted campaign to convince public and private physicians of the implications of his scientific research. Pasteur reached out far beyond his own scientific community. [27]

North worked to improve the dairy industry his entire life, and reached as far as he could, using many techniques in the process. Along with public health consulting, North lobbied legislatures, organized industry councils and testing laboratories and initiated public relations efforts. He also turned to invention,  and was granted over 100 US patents for improvements to dairy processes and equipment between 1918 and 1956 — a number that gives him serious status as an inventor. In short, North was totally obsessed. He used any and every possible means for improving the nation’s milk supply, which in the early decades of the  20th century, spread the epidemics that were the gravest threat to public health.

He was “the nation’s foremost milk expert” [28]   at a time when the public was much more concerned about the dairy industry than it is today. More than any other individual at the time, Charles E. North was the logical choice for a public health consultant when Kansas City, Mo. needed help studying its dairy industry and proposing reasonable regulations. A telegram from the mayor of Kansas City confirmed his appointment as consultant in May, 1921.

The Kansas City Milk Controversy Heats Up

The controversies in Kansas City, Mo. began in July, 1920 when the city ordered health inspectors to close down dairies and arrest managers that sold Grade B or C milk as Grade A. The city was trying to bring order into a chaotic and complex situation. At this time, only a fraction of the milk supply was inspected — not by the public health department, but by a Kansas City women’s club, the Consumer’s League.

The League “certified” raw milk for 67 distributors and 120 dairy farms, mostly on the Missouri side of town, which was predominantly upper-class and Republican. But no one inspected the 17 major distributors, mostly on the Kansas side of town, which sold a much larger volume from about 1,000 dairy farms. Most of this milk was pasteurized, although often in a way that did not kill disease-causing bacteria. [29]

Following the city’s new inspection order, distributors lowered prices paid to dairy farmers. Farmers responded with a milk strike that shut off most of the supply. But by December, distributors began selling out-of-state milk delivered in  refrigerated rail cars.[30]

By early 1921, the dairy industry in Kansas City was deeply and bitterly divided. The distributors fought small, independent dairies which sold raw milk. The Star and progressive Republicans backed the small dairies, while the Post and a majority of Democratic city councilmen favored big milk distributors and pasteurized milk.

The small dairymen claimed that big distributors kept their wholesale prices low  while making  enormous profits; pasteurization, they said, was just another way to control the market. Dealers claimed that the cost of maintaining a retail network and large processing plants took so much money that profits were actually low. Public health experts and reformers felt that priority should be placed on standards of quality in order to prevent disease. [31]

The controversy reached a fever pitch all over the Midwest during this time, aggravated by other farm problems. Hotly contested milk strikes and dealer price wars spread in 1921 to Spokane, then Fort Worth and San Francisco, and subsequently throughout the Midwest. [32]

When controversy over Kansas City’s milk regulations accelerated in the spring of 1921, the mayor cabled North, who arrived by train within two weeks. He knew he was walking into a hornet’s nest. “I found myself thrown into the midst of political, social and commercial battles that had been broiling for years and had now come to a head,” North wrote. [33]

Covering the Milk Fight

The “milk fight” did not start out as a point of contention between the two  newspapers, but both pursued the story from clearly different  perspectives. When dairy  strikes broke out in the fall of 1920, a Dec.1, 1920 Star story noted that Kansas City civic leaders were beginning to inspect milk bottling plants. The Post, meanwhile, carried a story Dec. 5 on  the arrest of one milk distributor by the city health director after repeated violations of the ordinance. In January, 1921, the Star promoted the Consumer’s League’s annual “white list” of acceptable raw milk dairies in several articles.The Post ignored the the League, which was a group of women’s clubs dedicated to civic improvement. The League said it represented 40,000 women in the Kansas City region.

By February, many farmers said they were victims of market manipulation by the major distributors. A Missouri-based farmers co-op dropped its price by two cents to compete with the majors and their out-of-state milk  The farm co-ops claimed that the milk hauled long distances was not being inspected and  had bacterial counts far higher than would be permissible under the July, 1920 ordinance. Both the Star and the Post covered the dispute factually in Feb. 21 articles. The Post emphasized a “milk price war” and the dumping of surplus milk into sewers. The Star, under the  headline “Milk Plot Charged,” noted that out-of-state dairy herds were not inspected for disease and that “outlaw milk” from as far away as Colorado and Oklahoma could be sold. After this, the issue apparently lay dormant for most of the spring of 1921.

Then in June of 1921, a Kansas City Post editor apparently asked North to write a column on the milk controversy, according to North’s notes (although it is possible that North approached the Post). There is no indication that North was paid for the columns, either in his notes or in his bank records. [34] The most likely explanation, given North’s familiarity with the press, is that he wanted or needed at least one newspaper as an ally. North had used the press before, when in 1906 William Randolph Hearst asked Lederle Laboratory, and its employee, Dr. North, to check the oyster beds in New York harbor for disease. And as early as 1907, North noted that the press “did much to advance the importance of pasteurization in the minds of the public.” [35]

The Post printed the first of 24 columns on its front page Sunday, June 26. It emphasized the “otherwise remarkably progressive city’s backwards condition” when it came to milk. “Not interested in local rows” said one of the subheads over the column.  The next day,  North claimed that the situation had become so controversial that “Diogenes would need a searchlight” to sort through the conflicting claims of corruption and prejudice by various factions, including “scheming women” — a thinly veiled slap at the Consumer’s League.

After a few  Post columns, it became clear that North was using sensational tactics. Perhaps in response, the editors at the Star decided to expose his expertise as textbook posturing. On July 8, Star reporters asked the nation’s foremost milk expert if he would try his hand at milking a cow. Thinking he would be taken to a nearby dairy barn, he agreed to meet the reporters the next morning.

Instead of a dairy barn, Star reporters escorted North to the Baltimore Hotel in downtown Kansas City, where a lobby full of spectators surrounded a  Guernsey cow. To the sound of catcalls and jeers,  North sat down on the  milking stool and started pulling. Since Star reporters and the crowd did not know that  North grew up on a dairy farm, North thought at first it would be an easy job. But the crowd made the cow tense, and as the crowd grew louder, North got less and less milk. Finally, he managed to calm first the crowd and then the cow. After a few quarts,  Star reporters had to concede that North did know something about cows. “Dr. North really did milk Vixen (the cow); rather hesitatingly, it is true, and by dint of much hard work and perspiring,” a Star news article said.[36]  Still, the Star continued to use  quotation marks around references to North as a dairy  “expert” or “so-called expert.”

It is unclear what triggered the change in the tone of North’s columns, although the hotel incident may have been a factor. But if North was “not interested” in local controversy, he could hardly have expected a calm reaction after a July 10th  column blamed the Chamber of Commerce, the Consumers League and the Star for the city’s high infant mortality rate. The “White List” system of private inspections “does not prevent babies from dying,” North said.

The next day was even more emphatic: “Nothing Funny About Baby Deaths” was the headline over a July 11 North column which ran over 50 inches of text and included photographs depicting a typhoid-ridden Kansas City child.

The Star responded the next day by quoting an expert in child nutrition as saying pasteurized milk was not as good as raw milk for babies.[37]   And it followed up with a July 27 story about a year-old lawsuit over pasteurized milk which was found to contain fly maggots. [38]

It is interesting to note that North and reporters for both newspapers went to some lengths in explaining the details of public health and nutrition to the public. In fact, one of the remarkable aspects of the 84 clips from the newspaper war is the length and depth of information about the controversy.  Many articles are enormously long by modern standards. The extent to which detail is employed is intriguing. Unlike most modern science news articles, both the Star  and the Post took pains to probe  intricacies of the issue, such as bacterial counts, details of testing methods and the mathematics of infant mortality statistics. Yet the approach was consistently sensational and emotional.

On July 30, the Post fired a broadside. First, it gave saturation coverage to recommendations which North’s Public Health Bureau  presented to the City Council. In the center of the  Post’s July 30 front page, the headline read: “Ban Dangerous Raw Milk.” After two months of investigation and controversy, North recommended a ban  on raw milk with a bacteria count over 30,000 per cc. At this time, much of the raw Kansas City milk had bacteria counts of one to 10 million bacteria per cc. The market impact would mean all “Grade B” raw milk — about 75 percent of the supply — would have to be sent to pasteurizers or thrown away.[39] This would be a special problem in summer months when heat helped bacteria multiply more quickly, the Post reported.

The Post’s July 30 front page also included a banner headline above the flag proclaiming: “Star Trick Exploded,” with the text of a telegram indicating that the expert quoted on July 12 by the Star actually supported North’s position on pasteurization. On the same front page,  the Post ran an editorial that claimed  North “has met exactly the ruthless and conscienceless hostility of the Star that he was told to expect.”  The editorial berated the Star, which it said belonged only “in the homes of predatory wealth,” and asked: “Has the Star quit again in the milk fight?”

“Ruthless Hostility” vs. “Sinister Influence”

The Star was not giving up. In a series of news articles in early August, it kept up opposition to North’s proposals for stiff regulations. On  August 4, a Star headline read: “North’s bill a muddle —  raw milk men reach conclusion it’s to force them out.” On August 5, the Star claimed the North proposal violated the copyright law and that “expert propaganda here is directed against raw milk.” On August 7, it ran a letter from an editor of the Rural New Yorker which said “milk dealers are usually a source of revenue to Dr. North,” and claimed his credentials as an expert were not valid. And on August 8, a Star headline claimed that “40,000 women disapprove” of North’s bill — the women being those purportedly represented by the Consumers League and related groups.

The Post fired back with editorials and articles concerning five deaths in a milk-related typhoid epidemic which occurred in Wichita, Kansas that summer. “As we see the right, Wichita’s typhoid (epidemic) is a lesson for Kansas City,” the Post  said in a front-page editorial. The editorial also  berated Star editors for “blindness and stubbornness in the face of facts.”

The  Star  and its sister paper, the Times,*also attacked North’s figures on infant mortality in news articles in October. One headline read: “Facts Again Crack North.”  The local medical society questioned the birth rate which North and the health department used as a basis for establishing the death rate in Kansas City. “The actual facts are in our favor,” said a  Times  news article Oct. 11. In an editorial castigating North, the Times said “amazing methods (have been) used by a medical man in what was supposed to be an earnest endeavor to gather the facts on which to base a scientific milk ordinance.”

The Post fired back Oct. 14: “The (medical society’s) report … is not  fair and unbiased,” the Post said in an editorial. “Can you beat it for effrontery, philistinism, provincialism and absolutely conscienceless conduct on the part of supposedly scientific men?”  Then, when the medical society apparently backed off the report, and supported North’s interpretation of the statistics,  the Post trumpeted in a news article that “statistics were juggled … in effort to discredit North.” But the Star stuck to its guns. “The alarmist campaign of Dr. Charles E. North, milk ‘expert,’ is absolutely without foundation” it said in a mid-November news article.

As the time for a City Council vote on North’s ordinance approached, both newspapers escalated the controversy. On December 16, the Times headlined a report on Consumer League objections to the proposal: “Rip Open North Bill.” And that evening, the Star reported: “Forty thousand (women) ask council for action on bill.”  Meanwhile, the Post promoted the North bill, claiming in a Dec.16 news article: “Milk quality improves as a result of North.” It also attacked the Star as “the organ of the opponents of pasteurization of milk,” which printed “one-sided” reports.

The Kansas City Council made its decision December 20 in favor of the North ordinance requiring pasteurization for all but heavily inspected, low bacteria count raw milk. The difference in the two sets of multi-deck headlines printed the next morning is striking:


• Kansas City Post, Dec. 20 —

of KC win in fight for pure milk
drafted by Dr. North Passed by City Council
City’s babies have won!

• Kansas City Times, Dec. 20 —

North Bill Passed
Milk ordinance
pushed through Council
with only one minor  amendment

for big dealers

raw milk dealers
are denied clauses
that would help them

hot debate in sessions

 aldermen openly declare that it means a monopoly

women’s pleas disregarded
sinister influence is charged.


The Star and Times kept reporting the issue in the first months of 1922, especially the vows of Republican candidates to fight the “gross mis-representation and brazen defiance of wishes of citizens” in the North bill.

But the bill stuck. Democrats continued to dominate the city council in the 1920s and big distributors continued to dominate the milk market. Bonfils and Tammen, meanwhile, found an opportunity to sell the Kansas City Post in 1922 to the chairman of the state Republican party, who had also bought the Journal when it went into receivership a few years before. [40] Clearly, the wind had gone out of the Post’s sails.

In November, 1921,  the Post’s editor B.A. Jenkins resigned, citing conflicts with his religion. [41] With Tammen dying of cancer and Bonfils’ old enemy Nelson gone, there was no point continuing the paper. In September 1923, the new Journal – Post , minus Bonfils and Tammen, ran a series of articles from every conceivable viewpoint, even those opposed to milk pasteurization. The controversy continued, but the war was over.

Yellow Journalism and Scientific Controversy

In  a controversy involving scientific issues with a narrow range of public policy choices, both the Post and Star allowed coverage to degenerate into viscous yellow journalism. It seems ironic today, and probably seemed ironic even then, that the respectable Star fought pasteurization while two wild men from Denver backed a campaign to “save babies” from an office called the “bucket of blood.” But of course, given North’s total dedication to his crusade for pasteurization and the Star’s previous commitment to the Consumer League and small dairies, the sides had already been chosen.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the Kansas City newspaper war is the extent to which emotions escalated. Certainly, the Post used North to enhance its respectability and North used the Post as the most expedient forum to advance his crusade. In order to generate support, and, he would argue, save the lives of babies, North made a coldly calculated decision to whip up a hot broth of science and emotion. That a scientist of  North’s stature would chose sensationalism is what makes the Kansas City fight an interesting episode in the history of science journalism. North brought all the emotional power of the press to bear for his cause by writing a column for the Post and provoking a reaction from the Star. It apparently helped him win.

This is dangerous business, and not to be found on the list of recommended practices for today’s scientists. Yet, is it possible that the use of emotional tactics had an element of social responsibility? North might argue that to exclude emotion from the reporting of complex issues would have meant abandoning the most powerful tool available to public health crusaders.

By the mid- and late-20th Century, politicians and physicians would grow much more circumspect in handling controversy, and the era of the yellow press slipped away with the deaths of Fred Bonfils and William Randolph Hearst. Yet the issue of emotional reporting is hardly resolved. Science writer Jon Franklin, for example, insists that emotion can be an opening for the average person to appreciate complex debates.

“Here, scientists may shiver,” Franklin said. “Emotional writing has done science a lot of harm in the past, and good scientists have learned to despise it. And yet, we can’t afford to shun the power… The (emotional) form has the power to reach across the great chasm and touch the nonscientist, and change minds.” [42] Franklin advocates a responsible form of emotional journalism which uses literary devices to draw readers into the intricacies and human aspects of science.

Today’s press is far more even-handed and responsible than the Star and Post of an earlier era. But we should not overlook a troubling paradox.  Drawing the interest of a public that is bored with intricate technical facts  is as much a problem today as it was for Dr. North in Kansas City that hot summer of 1921. Today, responsible media which scrupulously avoid all emotion in science reporting may run the risk of leaving the field open to tabloids run by the intellectual heirs of Bonfils and Tammen.

[1] Nelkin, Dorothy, ed., Controversy: Politics of Technical Decisions (London: Sage Publications, 1979)

[2] Walter, Timothy and Lynne, “The Conspiracy of Silence: Media Coverage of Syphilis, 1906 – 1938,” paper presented to Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, Washington, D.C., August 1989.

[3] Schwartz, Joshua, “Smallpox Immunization: Controversial Episodes,” in Nelkin, ed.,  Controversy: Politics of Technical Decisions (London: Sage, 1979)

[4] Interview with Dr. Charles E. North, Feb. 22, 1961, transcribed by Dr. Milford of Lederle Laboratories, North Papers, National Agricultural Library.

[5] Bernton, Hal, and Bill Kovarik and Scott Sklar, The Forbidden
Fuel: Power Alcohol in the 20th Century, (New York: Griffin, 1982).

[6] Sally A. Harris-Wheeler, “The Ladies Home Journal Between 1890 and 1906: The Influence of its Crusade to Regulate Food and Drug Products;” and Virginia Sliman, “Alcoholism: The Virtuous Woman’s Secret Vice, Turn of the Century Patent Medicine Abuse,” both papers presented to AEJMC conference, Washington, D.C., August 1989.

[7] Francke, Warren, “Sensationalism and the Development of 19th-Century Reporting: The Broom Sweeps Sensory Details,” Journalism History, 12:3-4, Autumn, 1985.

[8] For example, the National Commission on Milk Standards, headed by Dr. North, agreed  to allow highly regulated raw milk as “Grade A” if dairies desired, but imposed less stringent requirements on pasteurized milk. North, however, was an early advocate of full pasteurization.

[9] Post, Nov. 27, 1921. The dairy commissioner said: “…The milk fight here has become a sort of byword in other communities. .. Nowhere did we find any local milk fight whatever, such as we have had for years in Kansas City. Everywhere we found dairy officials and health authorities wondering, ‘What was ailing Kansas City.'”

[10] Not all the reputation is deserved.  A recent Food and Drug Administration report showed bacterial contamination in six percent of the nation’s milk supply, one-third of which involved pathogenic bacteria. “FDA’s Dairy Product Safety Initiatives: 2nd Year Status Report,” Milk Safety Branch, FDA, Oct. 1987.

[11] Sedgwick, William T., Principles of Sanitary Science and the Public Health (New York: Macmillan, 1905).  Also, Magruder, G. Lloyd, “Milk as a Carrier of Disease and the Desirability of Pasteurization,” USDA Bureau of Animal Industry, Circular # 153, 1901; and Strauss, Lina G. Disease in Milk: The Remedy Pasteurization. The Life Work of Nathan Strauss, (self-published) 1917; Sedgwick & Batchelder, Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. 126, 1892; and Rosenau, M.J., Preventive Medicine and Hygiene, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1913.

[12]   Magruder, G. Lloyd, “Milk as a Carrier of Disease and the Desirability of Pasteurization,” USDA Bureau of Animal Industry, Circular # 153, 1901.

[13] North, “Memorandum on Pasteurization.”

[14] Baltimore News American, Sept. 12, 1896.

[15] McNutt, The Modern Milk Problem.

[16]   Ibid.

[17] Dowling to North, July 13, 1920, North papers, National Agricultural Library. Also see Case, Maxwell, The Pasteurization of Milk, (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Knickerbocker Press, 1925).

[18] North, “Memorandum on Pasteurization.”

[19]  “Milk Shortage Looms as a Result of Probe,” Baltimore Sun   October 24, 1921.

[20] Willard G. Bleyer, Main Currents in the History of American Journalism,  (New York: DeCapo Press,1927).

[21] Edwin Emery, The Press And America, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice Hall, 1972), p. 457.

[22] Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism (New York: Macmillan Co., 1950).

[23] Gene Fowler, Timber Line: A Story of Bonfils and Tammen (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Books, 1950).

[24] Robert F. Karolevitz, Newspapering in the Old West: A Pictorial History of Journalism and Printing on the Frontier (Seattle, Wash.: Superior Publishing Co., 1965).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Norman Myrick, “He led the way to better milk,”  American Milk Review, July, 1954.

[27] Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1988).

[28] Kansas City Post, June 21, 1921.

[29] Charles E. North, “Kansas City Ordinance,” undated handwritten notes, North Collection, National Agricultural Library.

[30] Kansas City Star, Dec. 1, 1920 (Note: A group of 72 news clippings provided to North by a clipping service, along with 24 columns by North, was kept in a scrapbook among North’s papers at the National Agricultural Library. The clippings, along with several others preserved by the Missouri Valley Historical Society, served as the basis for this study).

[31] North, “Kansas City Ordinance.”

[32] James E. Boyle, “The Battle of Milk,” Saturday Evening Post, Nov. 13, 1937.

[33] North, “Kansas City Ordinance.”

[34] Ibid.

[35] North, “Memorandum on Pasteurization.”

[36] “Milks Cow in Hotel Lobby,”  Kansas City Star, July 9, 1921.

[37] A controversy over the nutritional value of pasteurized milk vs. raw milk still crops up from time to time, as in Columbia, S.C. in 1983.  The raw milk side is given in a book by William C. Douglass, M.D., The Milk of Human Kindness is Not Pasteurized, (Lakemont, Ga: Copple  House Books, 1985).

[38] “Cocoons Formed in Missouri Dairy Milk,” Kansas City Star, July 27, 1921.

[39] Henry Ayers, Milk Pasteurization, USDA bulletin No. 342, Sept. 1926.

* The Star’s Nelson bought the morning Times in 1901, and controlled its editorial policy.

[40] New York Times, May 19,  3:5, 1922.

[41] New York Times, Nov. 4, 36:5, 1921.

[42] Franklin, Jon, “Science Writing as Literature,” Address as Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecturer for the Public Understanding of Science, University of  California at San Francisco, Jan. 14, 1987.