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Harry Steenbock

Born: 16-Aug-1886
Birthplace: New Holstein, WI
Died: 25-Dec-1967
Location of death: Madison, WI
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, WI

Gender: Male
Religion: Lutheran
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Biologist, Chemist, Philanthropist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Cured rickets with synthesized Vitamin D

In 1924, biochemist Harry Steenbock discovered that exposure to ultraviolet irradiation boosted the Vitamin D content of certain foods, and showed that rickets was cured in rats fed irradiated (and thus Vitamin D augmented) food. Previously, Vitamin D deprivation could only be treated by swallowing cod-liver oil, a foul-tasting remedy, but Steenbock's discovery made it possible to enrich other foodstuffs with Vitamin D, and effectively eliminated rickets as a common disease.

Quaker Oats offered Steenbock one million dollars for the rights to his discovery, but he decided that such income should be applied to further research instead of his own personal wealth. With eight colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, he established the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), to which he transferred ownership of his patent, before licensing the rights to Quaker Oats, several pharmaceutical companies, and dairies that manufacture Vitamin D-enriched milk. WARF has evolved into a patent-management agency, now worth well over a billion dollars, still funneling its income to the University of Wisconsin's research labs.

Steenbock lived with his parents until their deaths in his 50s, then married a chemist -- his former lab assistant -- when he was 61 years old.

Father: Henry Steenbock (saloon owner, d. 1942)
Mother: Christine Steenbock (m. 1883, d. 1946)
Sister: Helen Steenbock Brinsmade (b. 1884)
Wife: Evelyn Van Donk Steenbock (chemist, b. 1905, m. 6-Mar-1948, d. 1992)

    High School: Chilton High School, Chilton, WI (1904)
    University: BS Agriculture, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1908)
    University: MS Agriculture, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1910)
    University: PhD Agricultural Chemistry, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1916)
    Teacher: Agricultural Chemistry, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1908-20)
    Professor: Chemistry, University of Wisconsin at Madison (1920-56)

    German Ancestry
    Swedish Ancestry



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