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Alexander P. Anderson (1862-1943)

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Records of the Laboratory (RG5)
3.8 linear feet (3 boxes)


Alexander P. Anderson (1862-1943) was born on a farm in Featherstone, Goodhue County, Minnesota on November 22, 1862, to Swedish immigrants. He attended local schools and, briefly, the University of Minnesota but was obliged to return to the farm to help his parents. After their death he returned to the University in 1890. He received his B.S. degree in 1894 and a M.S. degree in 1895. During this time, the University published the results of a laboratory study Anderson had made of the growth in weight of a pumpkin by training the vine and resting the pumpkin in the scale-pan of a self- registering balance.

Alexander P. Anderson came to work at The New York Botanical Garden Laboratories through the encouragement of Dr. Daniel Trembly MacDougal, who was at the time Director of Laboratories. It was under MacDougal that Anderson received his Master's degree at the University of Minnesota. After obtaining his B.S. and M.S. he went to Munich for his Ph.D., where he became interested in the structure of starch grains. He left for Munich in 1895 and received his Ph.D. one year later. Anderson became very interested in the Meyer starch grain granule theory. He did some work at the Missouri Botanical Garden when he returned from Munich but soon went to South Carolina to teach botany at Clemson College, then later to the University of Minnesota. When offered a position as Curator of the Herbarium of Columbia University with the use of the laboratories at The New York Botanical Garden, he resigned his teaching position and moved to New York. His work on starch granules continued at the Garden's Laboratories.

In December 1901 it occurred to Anderson that starch granules could be exploded and blasted into powder with particles infinitely smaller that starch granules themselves. He took small glass tubes and hermetically sealed powdered starch in each tube. In an oven, the tubes were heated up to 400 degrees and when taken out, while still hot, cracked with a hammer. Once the pressure was released, the starch came out a porous, enlarged, snow-white mass. A very different result than expected.

Later, rice, wheat, and other whole-grain cereals were treated in the same way. Over 1,000 experiments were conducted on different products in 1902. Anderson also worked on killing bacteria by disrupting and exploding their cell walls, thus rendering their culture media sterile. The results of the experiments on cereal grains were commercial products known as "puffed rice" and "puffed wheat" made from exploding the grains. Puffed rice was first exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.

In 1902, Dr. Anderson sold his patent and his services to the Quaker Oats Company and left The New York Botanical Garden. He continued his research on the minute structure of starch grains and continued to develop improved cereal foods and adhesives until his death in 1943.


The bulk of the records are a collection of laboratory notebooks in which Anderson meticulously recorded each of his experiments as well as the equipment and instruments he used during the experiments. The collection also includes several hundred patents from the U.S. Patent Office, both of his own inventions and of other inventors. The records also contain a few pieces of correspondence relating to his invention of the "puffing process" as well as a few articles written by Anderson himself. The notebooks cover Anderson's career from the time just prior to his working at The New York Botanical Garden until 1931. An inventory of his notebooks prepared by his daughter, Lydia Elizabeth Hedin, is also included.


    Series 1: Laboratory Notebooks
    Series 2: Patents
    Series 3: Correspondence

Series 1: Laboratory Notebooks - 1899-1931
                2.6 lin. ft. Arranged numerically.

The notebooks contain the starch experiments which Dr. Anderson began at Clemson College and continued at The New York Botanical Garden in 1901 where the process of puffing starch, rice, and wheat was discovered. Dr Anderson continued his investigations for the Quaker Oats Company, to improve the cereal products of "puffed wheat" and "puffed rice." In 1917 he built a complex of laboratories in Red Wing, Minnesota where he continued his experiments. There are 38 notebooks numbered 1-40 (29 and 30 are missing).

Series 2: Patents
                8 lin. in.

This material pertains to starch and grain experiments, machinery, adhesives, etc., including 3 of his own patents.

Series 3: Correspondence
                3 folders

This series contains letters regarding his experiments and patents, as well as some reprints and articles.


Donated in 1977 by the family of A. P. Alexander.


Minnesota Historical Society. St. Paul, Minnesota

Laboratory notebooks have been microfilmed.

PROCESSED BY: Susan Fraser, July 1998.

For more information and a complete description contact
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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