S. Ted Isaacs (UC Chem. Eng. 1936) Is Living History and a Self-Made Renaissance Man

Once again, the College of Engineering is about to kick off the annual “S. Ted Isaacs Prize Paper” competition. Isaacs’ goal for the contest is to encourage engineering students to become well-rounded engineers, including honing their writing skills. In sponsoring the annual contest, Isaacs is reinforcing values and standards to which he has held himself in his 90 years.

When young Ted Isaacs was looking at colleges, he considered Purdue and the University of Cincinnati, among others. UC had one definite advantage: co-operative education, where students in certain disciplines are required to spend a specified number of quarters actually working in a company. Ted Isaacs was sold.

“I selected the University of Cincinnati because of the co-op program,” says Isaacs. “That was the deciding factor.”

Isaacs enrolled at UC in 1931. Jobs for everyone at that time were scarce because of the Great Depression, so he was not able to co-op right away. However, in the summer after his sophomore year, Isaacs began his first co-op at French Bauer Dairy. French Bauer at the time was the second-biggest dairy in the city of Cincinnati. (It was sold to Meyer Dairy in 1979.). Isaacs worked for French Bauer for the remainder of his sophomore, his pre-junior and junior years.

Because Isaacs’ family was in the jewelry and pawn shop business, Isaacs had never worked in a factory environment before. So he thought to himself, “Here I go — working out in the factory at French Bauer. That was an education in itself.”

1932 truck on its way to FB from a CPMA farm.

1932 truck on its way to FB from a CPMA farm.

Some routine was involved in Isaacs’ work. He primarily took samples of incoming raw milk and ran various bacteriological tests. Health laws required testing of raw milk; Isaacs tested both raw and pasteurized milk. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the purity of milk was paramount. In fact, Cincinnati played a role in the national movement for milk purity.

In 1906, physicians in Cincinnati established a milk commission, which called for a national conference to be held on June 3, 1907, in Atlantic City. The Atlantic City meeting established the American Association of Medical Milk Commissions. One concern of the association was the number of infants who died from severe diarrhea, or “summer complaint” (identified also in historical documents as being cholera or severe gastroenteritis). “Summer complaint” sounds trivial, but its effects were deadly. Doctors often pointed their fingers at milk that had not been kept cool.

December 1929, horse-drawn milk wagon.

December 1929, horse-drawn milk wagon.

Most milk was delivered directly to the homes at this time. “Returned milk” was that milk left over after the day’s deliveries. As the milk men went around to their customers, each customer would indicate how many bottles she wanted that day. In those days, often if the mistress of the house was not home, the milk man would put the milk in her icebox for her.

During Isaacs’ co-op years of 1932–36, French Bauer phased out their horse-drawn milk wagons and turned to motorized vehicles to make the home deliveries.

French Bauer milk trucks.

French Bauer milk trucks.

“It was rare for a delivery truck to sell out,” says Isaacs. His job included testing the returned milk. “One of the uses for returns was to separate out the fat and make butter with it.” For his skill at conducting bacteriological tests in Petri dishes, Isaacs was paid $12 a week. At his graduation, Isaacs and one other student were the only ones who had already cashed a “real” paycheck.

Interestingly enough, Carl H. Lindner Sr. made his mark on the Cincinnati dairy world in 1938 by offering dairy products on a “cash-and-carry” basis in his store in Norwood. Because he had no delivery costs, he could offer his milk and dairy products at discounted prices. Is it surprising, then, that United Dairy Farmers is the only locally owned dairy left in Cincinnati?

Ted Isaacs' selective service registration card.

Ted Isaacs' selective service registration card.

In 1940, Isaacs returned to UC as a student. He felt that engineering was a trade and wanted to become more of a “Renaissance man” by taking some liberal arts classes. He came in through Evening College and took sociology, English composition and literature. He loved every minute of it and earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts.

“I got … a liberal arts background, which a lot of engineers should have and don’t,” says Isaacs. “The teachers were great with me.” He remembers one English professor in particular, Dr. William C. Boyce. Most people have heard of “Boyce” only as an award given by the English department yearly for excellence in teaching. But before Boyce was an award, he was a great teacher, according to Isaacs.

“I went to Dr. Boyce [and said], ‘When you assign a descriptive paragraph…I want to describe my work in the oil refinery, not just trees or birds,’” says Isaacs. “He fell right in with that.”

“William C. Boyce taught at UC from the late 20s until the late 60s,” says English associate professor Jim Hall. “I knew him during the last two years of his teaching career. He was a true eccentric and much beloved (and joked about) by his students. …He wasn’t a publishing scholar but was a treasury of information and seemed to have read everything.”

Isaacs also remembers two other professors distinctly: “Dr. Carlson — sociology — walked into class and said, ‘Sociology is the study of things everybody knows in words [that] nobody understands.’” That definition has some ring of truth still today.

Isaacs studied poetry under Dr. Clark. In fact, in 2003, Isaacs self-published a book of poetry, called Purple and Gold. Who knows if Dr. Clark would be proud? Here’s an excerpt from “Footprints”:

At my old school U of Cincinnati
I have endowed a prize paper contest.
Those students will receive prize money,
Who in the S. Ted Isaacs contest were best.

Because of these things someone may ask,
Who was this Ted Isaacs anyway?
In a dusty old issue of Who’s Who
My footprint will exist to that day.


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