Charles Thom Papers (PP)

Archives, The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
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Bronx, New York 10458-5126
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Collectors: Thom, Charles, 1872-1956.
Title: Charles Thom Papers (PP)
Dates: 1913-1955
Dates: bulk, 1928-1953
Quantity: 5.5 linear feet; 5 boxes
Call Phrase: Thom (PP)

Biography of Charles Thom

Charles 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 U.S. Long associated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 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, IL 11 November 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, CT 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 U.S.

In 1913 he moved to Washington, DC 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 antibiotics production.

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 in 1949.

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), charter member of the Mycological Society of America (president, 1953), and president of the Society of American Bacteriologists (1940). Lake Forest College awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degree to him in 1936. Dr. Thom died at his home in Port Jefferson, NY 24 May 1956 at age 83.

Scope and Content

The Charles Thom collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, research notes, an index card file of mycological literature, photographs, negatives, drawings, 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 with a wide range of mycologists and microbiologists in academia, government, and industry.


The collection is organized into seven series:
Series 1: Correspondence. 1924-1953. Arranged alphabetically.
Series 2: Research Papers. 1913-1948. Arranged alphabetically.
Series 3: Manuscripts & Typescripts. 1915-1950. Arranged alphabetically.
Series 4: Consulting Activities. 1941-1951. Arranged alphabetically.
Series 5: Course Curriculum. 1931.
Series 6: Photographs. no date. Arranged by subject.
Series 7: Personal Papers. 1914-1955. Arranged alphabetically.


Access restrictions

This collection is open for research with permission from Mertz Library staff.


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be submitted in writing to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Blakeslee, Albert Francis, 1874-1954.
Dodge, Bernard Ogilvie, 1872-1960.
Harper, Robert Almer, 1862-1946.
Raistrick, Harold, b. 1890.
Raper, Kenneth B. (Kenneth Bryan), 1908-
Waksman, Selman A. (Selman Abraham), 1888-1973.
Industrial microbiology.
New York Botanical Garden Archives.
Penicillin -- Research.
Penicillium -- Cultures and culture media.
Soil microbiology.
Thom, Charles, 1872-1956 -- Archives.
United States. Dept. of Agriculture -- History -- Sources.

Related Material

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

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Charles Thom Papers (PP), Archives, The New York Botanical Garden.

Acquisition Information

Materials of the Charles Thom collection were transferred to the NYBG archives from Professor L. S. McClung, SAB Archivist, in 1967, and which consisted of manuscripts, correspondence, research papers, and 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 NYBG in 1990. Dr. Raper had collected a number of Dr. Thom’s papers, primarily autobiographical materials, USDA course curriculum, and assorted research papers and manuscripts.

Processing Information

Originally processed by David Rose, Archives Assistant, March 2000 with grant funding from The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH-PA 23141-98) and the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation. Converted to EAD in July 2006 by Kathleene Konkle under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH-PA 50678-04).

Container List


Series 1. Correspondence.

Scope and Content:

There are two 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.

Folder Title Date
1.1 -A- ca. 1924-1953
1.2 Abbott Laboratories ca. 1924-1953
1.3 -B- ca. 1924-1953
1.4 -B- ca. 1924-1953
1.5 Blakeslee, Albert F. ca. 1924-1953
1.6 Blumberg, Alfred ca. 1924-1953
1.7 Broadhurst, Jean ca. 1924-1953
1.8 Brodie, Harold J. ca. 1924-1953
1.9 Buller, A. H. Reginald ca. 1924-1953
1.10 -C- ca. 1924-1953
1.11 -C- ca. 1924-1953
1.12 -C- ca. 1924-1953
1.13 Cahn, F. J. ca. 1924-1953
1.14 Challenger, Frederick ca. 1924-1953
1.15 Cleland, Ralph E. (The American Journal of Botany) ca. 1924-1953
1.16 Conant, Norman F. ca. 1924-1953
1.17 Conkling, C. S. ca. 1924-1953
1.18 Continental Can Co. Inc. ca. 1924-1953
1.19 Couch, John N. ca. 1924-1953
1.20 -D- ca. 1924-1953
1.21 Damon, Samuel Chester ca. 1924-1953
1.22 Dodge, Bernard Ogilvie ca. 1924-1953
1.23 -E- ca. 1924-1953
1.24 Emmons, Chester W. ca. 1924-1953
1.25 -F- ca. 1924-1953
1.26 Farr, Wanda K. ca. 1924-1953
1.27 Fawcett, H. S. ca. 1924-1953
1.28 Fischer, Charles E. M. ca. 1924-1953
1.29 Foshay, Lee ca. 1924-1953
1.30 Fred, E. B. ca. 1924-1953
1.31 -G- ca. 1924-1953
1.32 Greene, Henry C. ca. 1924-1953
1.33 -H- ca. 1924-1953
1.34 Harper, Robert A. ca. 1924-1953
1.35 Heald, F. D. ca. 1924-1953
1.36 Henrici, Arthur T. ca. 1924-1953
1.37 Huntington, P. W. ca. 1924-1953
1.38 -I / J / K- ca. 1924-1953
1.39 -I / J / K- ca. 1924-1953
1.40 -I / J / K- ca. 1924-1953
1.41 -I / J / K- ca. 1924-1953
1.42 King, C. J. ca. 1924-1953
1.43 Kittredge, Herman E. ca. 1924-1953
1.44 Koser, Stewart A. ca. 1924-1953
1.45 -L / M- ca. 1924-1953
1.46 -L / M- ca. 1924-1953
1.47 -L / M- ca. 1924-1953
1.48 -L / M- ca. 1924-1953
1.49 Macy, H. ca. 1924-1953
1.50 Markham, C. Emerson (re: General Electric radio broadcasts) ca. 1924-1953
1.51 Mason, E. W. ca. 1924-1953
1.52 McCall, A. G. ca. 1924-1953
1.53 McCoy, C. E. ca. 1924-1953
1.54 McDermott, F. A. ca. 1924-1953
1.55 Monsanto Chemical Company ca. 1924-1953
1.56 Moore, Morris ca. 1924-1953
1.57 Mycological Society of America ca. 1924-1953
1.58 -N / O- ca. 1924-1953
1.59 -N / O- ca. 1924-1953
1.60 Obst, Maud Mason ca. 1924-1953
1.61 -P/Q- ca. 1924-1953
1.62 Re: penicillin ca. 1924-1953
1.63 Porro Biological Laboratories ca. 1924-1953
1.64 Prickett, Paul S. ca. 1924-1953
1.65 Proctor, Bernard E. ca. 1924-1953
1.66 -R- ca. 1924-1953
1.67 -R- ca. 1924-1953
1.68 Raistrick, Harold ca. 1924-1953
1.69 Reid, James J. ca. 1924-1953
1.70 Reid, Roger D. ca. 1924-1953
1.71 Requests for reprints ca. 1924-1953
1.72 Rettew, G. Raymond ca. 1924-1953
1.73 Richards, C. Audrey ca. 1924-1953
1.74 Richards, Oscar W. ca. 1924-1953
1.75 Ritter, P. N. ca. 1924-1953
1.76 Rogers, Donald P. ca. 1924-1953
1.77 -S- ca. 1924-1953
1.78 -S- ca. 1924-1953
1.79 Sadtler (Samuel P.) & Sons, Inc. ca. 1924-1953
1.80 Sanborn, J. R. ca. 1924-1953
1.81 Scales, Freeman M. ca. 1924-1953
1.82 Scheffer, Theodore C. ca. 1924-1953
1.83 Sherbakoff, C. D. ca. 1924-1953
2.1 Simonart, Paul ca. 1924-1953
2.2 Slate, William L. (re: Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station) ca. 1924-1953
2.3 TITLE ca. 1924-1953
2.4 Smith, George ca. 1924-1953
2.5 Smithsonian Institution, International Exchange Service ca. 1924-1953
2.6 Smyth, Henry Field ca. 1924-1953
2.7 Snelling, Walter O. ca. 1924-1953
2.8 Starkey, R. L. ca. 1924-1953
2.9 St. John Brooks, R. ca. 1924-1953
2.10 Swift, Marjorie E. ca. 1924-1953
2.11 -T- ca. 1924-1953
2.12 Taubenhaus, Ephraim and Jacob Josef ca. 1924-1953
2.13 Tehon, Leo R. ca. 1924-1953
2.14 Thaxter, Roland ca. 1924-1953
2.15 Todd, Ramona L. ca. 1924-1953
2.16 Tompkins, C. M. ca. 1924-1953
2.17 Trelease, Samuel F. ca. 1924-1953
2.18 Troy, Virgil S. ca. 1924-1953
2.19 Underwood, J. K. ca. 1924-1953
2.20 USDA ca. 1924-1953
2.21 -V / W- ca. 1924-1953
2.22 -V / W- ca. 1924-1953
2.23 -V / W- ca. 1924-1953
2.24 Waksman, Selman A. ca. 1924-1953
2.25 Weaver, George H. ca. 1924-1953
2.26 Weindling, Richard ca. 1924-1953
2.27 The Williams & Wilkins Company ca. 1924-1953
2.28 Woods, A. F. ca. 1924-1953
2.29 -Y/Z- ca. 1924-1953

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Series 2. Research Papers.

Scope and Content:

The bulk of the research papers consist of an index card file (3 x 5), of which there are 12 boxes. There are six 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 keys.

Folder Title Date
2.30 Bryophyta and pteridophyta drawings, Biology 16-13, Anne M. Hanson, 1938 ca. 1913-1948
2.31 Dichotomous keys: molds in culture ca. 1913-1948
2.32 List of Penicillia from Dr. C. Thom ca. 1913-1948
2.33 Notes on published articles in The Review of Applied Mycology, et al ca. 1913-1948
2.34 Penicillium, figures and notes ca. 1913-1948
2.35 Penicillium notes ca. 1913-1948
2.36 Penicillium - Photostats, sketches, and notes ca. 1913-1948
2.37 Reprints, annotated ca. 1913-1948
2.38 USDA expense vouchers and authorizations, with notes and memos ca. 1913-1948
Box Title Date
4 Literature index, fungi ca. 1913-1948
5 Literature index, fungi ca. 1913-1948
6 Literature index, fungi ca. 1913-1948
6 Literature index, soil ca. 1913-1948
7 Literature index, soil ca. 1913-1948
7 Literature index, general, A-B ca. 1913-1948
8 Literature index, general, A-B ca. 1913-1948
9 Literature index, general, C ca. 1913-1948
10 Literature index, general, D-G ca. 1913-1948
11 Literature index, general, G-M ca. 1913-1948
12 Literature index, general, N-T ca. 1913-1948
13 Literature index, general, U-Z ca. 1913-1948
13 Literature index, botany ca. 1913-1948
14 Literature index, botany ca. 1913-1948
14 Literature index, dairy ca. 1913-1948
15 Literature index, dairy ca. 1913-1948

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Series 3. Manuscripts & Typescripts.

Scope and Content:

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.

Folder Title Date
2.39 “Achlorhydria - Two Cases” n.d.
2.40 “Aspergillus in the Curtis Collection” 1917
2.41 “The Austin, Texas Project” n.d.
2.42 “Comparison of bacteria counts in whole and skim milk . . . cream” – R. W. Lamson n.d.
2.43 “Have microbiologists forgotten the microscope?” 1946 NY Microscopial Society n.d.
2.44 Lecture notes n.d.
2.45 Manual of the Penicillia n.d.
2.46 Manual of the Penicillia n.d.
2.47 Manual of the Penicillia n.d.
2.48 Manual of the Penicillia n.d.
2.49 Manual of the Penicillia n.d.
2.50 Manual of the Penicillia n.d.
2.51 Manual of the Penicillia n.d.
2.52 Manual of the Penicillia n.d.
2.53 “The mold laboratory” n.d.
2.54 “A mycologist talks on nutrition of molds” 1946
2.55 Notes for talks, etc. n.d.
2.56 Notes on molds in allergies n.d.
2.57 Notes on the Soil Congress, Oxford, England n.d.
2.58 Report of AAAS (Mycological Society) meetings, Dallas, Texas 1942
3.1 Reports on the bacteriological conditions of oysters 1915-1916
3.2 “Results of the application of the Food & Drugs Act on the character of interstate milk” n.d.
3.3 “Robert Almer Harper” 1946
3.4 “Soil microbiology in America” 1950
3.5 “Sources of legume inoculation for education work” n.d.
3.6 “The Zinc content of some food products” - Victor Birckner n.d.

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Series 4. Consulting Activities.

Scope and Content:

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.

Folder Title Date
3.7 Florida citrus fruit 1950
3.8 General Foods Corporation 1944
3.9 General Mills, Inc. 1944-1945
3.10 Lilly Research Laboratory 1951
3.11 Lilly Research Laboratory 1953
3.12 National Regional Research Laboratory 1950
3.13 Northeastern Wood Utilization Council 1945
3.14 Report on Pecos Valley Trip 1941
3.15 Tropicalization 1945

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Series 5. Course Curriculum.

Scope and Content:

The single file contains the curriculum of a course in general mycology given at the USDA in the autumn of 1931.

Folder Title Date
3.16 Mycology course 1931

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Series 6. Photographs.

Scope and Content:

There are 3 files of photos of Penicillia, soil fungi, and Psilocybe cultures and one file of negatives of tables and texts.

Folder Title Date
3.17 Penicillium n.d.
3.18 Soil fungi n.d.
3.19 Test tube cultures, Psilocybe (re: Sadtler & Sons, Inc.) n.d.
3.20 Penicillium, negatives n.d.

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Series 7. Personal Papers.

Scope and Content:

There are 6 files containing an autobiographical typescript with assorted notes and clippings, a bibliography, personal correspondence, a personal pocket notebook (c. 1955), and documents relating to Dr. Thom’s retirement from the USDA.

Folder Title Date
3.21 Autobiographical notes ca. 1914-1955
3.22 Autobiography ca. 1914-1955
3.23 Bibliography ca. 1914-1955
3.24 Correspondence ca. 1914-1955
3.25 Notebook, personal ca. 1914-1955
3.26 Retirement ca. 1914-1955

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