Archives and Manuscript Collections
CHARLES THOM PAPERS (1913-1955)
5.5 linear feet (15 boxes)
Thom (1872-1956) was a mycologist whose work in the microbiology of dairy
products and soil fungi was an important influence in setting rigorous
standards in food handling and processing in the United States. Long associated
with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), he conducted research
in food toxicity and enforced standards of the Pure Food and Drug Act.
Dr. Thom was an internationally recognized authority on molds used in cheese
ripening and first described
Penicillium roqueforti and P. camemberti,
active ingredients of two popular cheeses. His studies of microfungi culminated
in the publication of The Aspergilli (with Margaret B. Church, 1926)
and The Penicillia (1930).
Charles Thom was born in Minonk, Illinois on November 11, 1872. He received
his A.B. (1895) and A.M. (1897) at Lake Forest College and his Ph.D. (1899)
at the University of Missouri, the first doctoral degree to be awarded
by that institution. His early career as a botany teacher led to research
at Woods Hole Biological Laboratory and a position as an assistant to George
F. Atkinson at Cornell University. Upon Atkinson's recommendation he took
a position with the USDA in 1904, where he remained until his retirement
in 1942. His USDA career began with a 10-year stint at the Agricultural
Experiment Station at Storrs, Connecticut to work on a project on mold-ripened
cheese. His successes here contributed to the development of industrial
processes for the manufacture of Camembert and Roquefort cheeses in the
In 1913 he moved to Washington, D.C. to begin work as Mycologist in
Charge of the Microbiological Laboratory, Bureau of Chemistry. He was then
Head of the Division of Soil Microbiology, Bureau of Chemistry and Soils
(1927-1934) and Bureau of Plant Industry (1934-1942). His research into
the taxonomy of Aspergillus and Penicillium, his building
a systematic collection of living mold cultures, and his correct identification
of Alexander Fleming's penicillin-producing mold as Penicillium notatum
formed a nucleus of wide-ranging studies that ultimately led to large-scale
With the Division of Soil Microbiology Dr. Thom developed a practical
method to control the devastating 'Texas Root Rot' of cotton. During World
War II he became an important collaborator with the USDA Northern Regional
Research Laboratory 'Penicillin Team,' charged with the crucial project
of developing methods to increase penicillin yield from various strains
of Penicillium. Here he worked with his protégé, Dr.
Kenneth Raper; together they published Manual of the Penicillia
Dr. Thom was the American Delegate to the International Dairy Congress
held in Paris, France in 1905. He worked with an organizing committee to
create a graduate education program at the USDA. He attended the International
Soil Congress in Oxford, England (1935) and was Vice President of the International
Microbiological Congress in New York (1939). He was a National Academy
of Sciences member (from 1937), a charter member of the Mycological Society
of America (president, 1953), and president of the Society of American
Bacteriologists (SAB) (1940). Lake Forest College awarded an Honorary Doctor
of Science degree to him in 1936. Dr. Thom died at his home in Port Jefferson,
New York on May 24, 1956 at age 83.
SCOPE AND CONTENT
The Charles Thom collection consists of correspondence, original manuscripts
and research notes, an index card file of mycological literature, photographs,
and personal papers. It covers his USDA career with the Bureau of Chemistry
from 1913 to his retirement in 1942 and post-retirement years to 1953.
The bulk of his correspondence falls during the period he was Head of the
Division of Soil Microbiology, from 1928, and correspondents cover a wide
range of mycologists and microbiologists in academia, government, and industry.
Series 1: Correspondence
Series 2: Research Papers
Series 3: Manuscripts and Typescripts
Series 4: Consulting Activities
Series 5: Course Curriculum
Series 6: Photographs
Series 7: Personal Papers
Series 1 Correspondence, 1924-1953
1.7 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 2 boxes of correspondence files, titled by individual or organization
name, covering Dr. Thom's career with the USDA, from his work with the
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment at Storrs to his role in penicillin
research at the Northern Regional Research Laboratory at Peoria, Illinois.
There is also significant correspondence during the period of his retirement
(post-1942). Prominent correspondents include Albert F. Blakeslee, Bernard
Ogilvie Dodge, Robert A. Harper, Harold Raistick, Kenneth Raper, Paul Simonart,
and Selman A. Waksman.
Series 2 Research Papers, 1913-1948
2.1 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
The bulk of the research papers consists of an index card file (3 x
5), of which there are 12 boxes. There are 6 distinct index sequences:
botany, dairy, fungi, general, literature, and soil. The material consists
of literature citations on index cards and paper slips, written and typewritten
notes, abstracts, and clippings from scientific journals and experiment
station records and bulletins. In addition, there are 9 files on Penicillia
and other molds consisting of research notes, drawings, and dichotomous
Series 3 Manuscripts and Typescripts, 1915-1950
1.3 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
This series consists of 26 files of material written by Dr. Thom, with
a few by his associates. They include manuscripts, typescripts, and related
notes and correspondence for published articles, government reports, lectures,
and conference presentations. Subjects include food and soil analysis,
the activity of molds, and issues in the history of mycology and microbiology.
There are 8 files of a complete typescript of A Manual of the Penicillia,
co-authored with Kenneth Raper.
Series 4 Consulting Activities, 1941-1951
0.3 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 9 files relating to business consulting on problems in industrial
microbiology (e.g., large-scale fermentation, soil analysis, fungal pathogens).
Clients include General Foods Corporation, General Mills Inc., and Lilly
Research Laboratory. The material consists of correspondence, recommendations,
reports, and notes. One file consists of a report for the USDA Northern
Regional Research Laboratory in 1950.
Series 5 Course Curriculum, 1931
The single file contains the curriculum of a course in general mycology
given at the USDA in the autumn of 1931.
Series 6 Photographs, no date
Three folders. Arranged by subject.
There are 3 files of photos of Penicillia, soil fungi, and Psilocybe
cultures and 1 file of negatives of tables and texts.
Series 7 Personal Papers, 1914-1955
0.1 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically.
There are 6 files containing an autobiographical typescript with assorted
notes and clippings, a bibliography, personal correspondence, a personal
pocket notebook (ca. 1955), and documents relating to Dr. Thom's retirement
from the USDA.
Materials of the Charles Thom collection were transferred to the New
York Botanical Garden archives from Professor L. S. McClung, SAB Archivist,
in 1967, and consisted of manuscripts, correspondence, research papers,
and an index card file. Materials were also received from Judy Peterson,
Administrator of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, upon the transfer
of the Kenneth B. Raper collection to the Garden in 1990. Dr. Raper had
collected a number of Dr. Thom's papers, primarily autobiographical materials,
the USDA course curriculum, and assorted research papers and manuscripts.
The New York Botanical Garden
PP Samuel Chester Damon Papers
PP Kenneth B. Raper Papers
RG5 Igor N. Asheshov Records
RG5 Bernard Ogilvie Dodge Records
RG5 William J. Robbins Records
Processed January 2000 by David Rose under a grant from
the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant
from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.
For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
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