Pablum

A healthy diet is important to prevent illness, especially when you’re just a baby.

This was the thinking that pushed Doctors Frederick Tisdall, Theodore Drake and Alan Brown of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario towards searching for something to fill in for nutrient deficiencies in baby foods at the turn of the 20th century.

At the time many babies succumbed to diseases such as rickets, tuberculosis, or diphtheria due to poor nutrition. The Hospital for Sick Children had previously created a food for infants to provide proper nutrition called Sunwheat Biscuits. While successful, babies couldn’t digest the hard biscuits and needed something softer to provide them their much needed nutrients.

Tisdall, Drake and Brown went through several formulas, testing them on patients, animals and family members to get feedback on the taste and effects of their baby food. Some formulas turned out to be too hard for infants to digest or had poor tastes, others caused nasty side effects such as diarrhea, but by adapting their formula the doctors managed to create a palatable formula that retained nutrients and had no adverse side effects.

But, there was still a problem, their finished cereal had a long cooking time which would make it a hard sell to busy parents with little enough free time as it was. Tisdall, Drake and Brown looked to a new practice of creating dried milk by dripping it on a rotating heated barrel and quickly scraping it off. Using this with their own formula, they created a powdered baby cereal that could be eaten straight out of the container.

Named Pablum after pabulum, the Latin word for food, their final formula was released in 1930. It provided much needed nutrients and when used in combination with other treatments reduced fatalities from cases regarding nutritional deficiencies from 62 per cent to 17.

Tisdall struck a deal with the Mead Johnson Company from Chicago, Illinois to sell the cereal with the Hospital for Sick Children receiving a royalty for every package sold. This deal turned out to be a very lucrative one and provided the Hospital with a healthy income for the next 25 years.

Doctors Tisdall and Drake would go on to work with the National Dairy Council to enrich milk with vitamin D, battling rickets and sparing generations of children from having to stomach cod oil supplements as a result.

Author(s)
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Stephen Sedgwick-Williams