Benedict, Francis Gano, 1870-1957

Alternative names
Birth 1870-10-03
Death 1957-04-14

Biographical notes:

Francis Gano Benedict (1870-1957), AB, 1893, AM, 1894, Harvard College; PhD, 1895, Heidelberg University, Director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory from 1907-1937, specialized in chemistry, nutrition, and the study of metabolism. Benedict's research focused on the effects of nutrition, food intake, exercise, and sleep on the metabolism of humans and animals; he also built several calorimeters, including the Benedict Apparatus which measured basal metabolism. In the 1930s he was asked to plan for the construction of a building and to establish a program for the Boston Nutrition Laboratory known by "elephant studies." A professional magician, Benedict frequently performed his show, Science and the Art of Deception, after retiring from the Boston Nutrition Laboratory in 1937.

From the description of Papers, 1870-1957. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 80630948

Benedict graduated from Harvard in 1893.

From the description of Notes in chemistry courses, 1889-1894. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77073599

Francis Gano Benedict (FGB), Director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory from 1907 to 1938, specialized in chemistry, nutrition, and the study of metabolism in humans and animals. He was born 3 October 1870 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Washington Gano and Harriet Emily (Barrett) Benedict. In 1877 the family moved to Orange Park, Florida; four years later, they settled in Boston, Massachusetts.

FGB studied chemistry with Josiah Parsons Cooke at Harvard College, and received the AB and AM from Harvard in 1893 and 1894, respectively. As a student at Harvard, FGB's published studies focused on chemical subjects such as Double Haloids of Potassium and Antimony (1894). FGB completed his PhD studies, magna cum laude, at Heidelberg University in Germany in 1895. FGB was appointed research assistant to Professor Wilbur O. Atwater at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he was later appointed Professor in 1905. Atwater, a chemical physiologist, encouraged FGB to study physiology and nutrition; the two collaborated on several nutritional studies and published Experiments on Digestion of Food by Man in 1897. FGB's studies in metabolism, published in Chemical Researches, 1894-1900 (1901), were the results of his early research in nutrition. From 1895 to 1907 FGB was a physiological chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and from 1896 to 1900 he served as chemist at the Storrs Experiment Station in Connecticut. FGB met and married Cornelia Golay of Brewer, Maine in 1897. Mrs. Benedict was trained in biology and zoology, and she co-authored many of FGB's published studies in physiology in later years.

While at Wesleyan, FGB built a number of calorimeters, including the closed circuit respiration apparatus and calorimeter. As a result of his work, FGB was selected by the Carnegie Institution of Washington as the first director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory (BNL) in 1907, where he continued to construct calorimeters, including the Benedict Apparatus which measured basal metabolism. He used this device in studies of heat production and regulation in humans and animals. FGB was also involved in the development of metabolism studies based on age, sex, height, and weight, and collaborated with Elliott Joslin on an intensive study of respiratory metabolism in diabetes. Other research included examining the effects of nutrition, food intake, exercise, and sleep on the metabolism of humans and animals. Many of these studies are found in Vital Energetics: A Study in Comparative Basal Metabolism (1938). During the winter of 1906-1907, FGB traveled to Europe to observe the methods, techniques, and equipment used in leading scientific laboratories, and formed ties with many physiologists and research scientists in Europe. FGB retired from the BNL and all other professional activities in November 1937.

After retirement, FGB turned to his lifelong interest of magic and became active on the college lecture circuit. He was a member of the Society of American Magicians and performed professionally from 1938-1942. The Benedicts' summer house in Machiasport, Maine became their fulltime residence after FGB's retirement although winters were spent in warmer climates. He died in Machiasport, Maine there on 14 April 1957.

From the guide to the Papers, 1870s-1957., (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.)


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  • Calorimeters
  • Basal metabolism
  • Nutrition--Research
  • Magic
  • Nutrition


  • Chemists
  • Magicians
  • Nutritionists


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