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Professor Ladd’s Warning


Today we share another story about Professor E. F. Ladd, the well-known champion of purity in consumer products. In 1890, President Stockbridge of the newly founded North Dakota Agricultural College invited Professor Ladd to become Professor of Chemistry at the college and chemist of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Ladd agreed, and joined the first group of instructors at the new institution.

Ladd’s interests ran from medication and canned foods to paint. In 1902, he was appointed State Food Commissioner, a post he held until 1921. Through his research, he concluded that North Dakota had become a “dumping ground” for impure foods. Thanks to him, North Dakota passed the Adulteration of Food Act in 1903. This was three years before the United States Congress passed a pure food law. Citizens of North Dakota came to respect and appreciate Ladd’s concern for the consumer. His associates described him as an unimaginative and very stern teacher, obsessed with an analytical approach. But he was also described as devoted to very high standards, and has been called a hero of the pure food and drug movement.

On this date in 1912, Professor Ladd issued a warning to farmers. According to the Devils Lake Inter-Ocean, Ladd addressed concerns he’d received regarding the Farmers General Service Company. Consumers wanted to know if the company was in compliance with the laws of North Dakota. Ladd said the company could be a valuable resource for farmers, but only if it intended to give the farmer “full value for the money expended.”

In the course of Ladd’s investigation, he talked to companies that did business with Farmers General. He said one company would accept transactions with Farmers General on a cash-only basis. Others said they had done no business with Farmers General, but were being featured in the company’s advertisements.

Ladd came to the conclusion that Farmers General did not comply with the laws of North Dakota, saying “it is questionable if the service is of benefit to the consumer.” The company had not registered food and medicinal products as required by the state. He warned that employees of the company were responsible for the violation.

Ladd was right. As it turns out, Farmers General Service Company was putting it over on farmers in several states, taking money up-front for the promise of lower prices on supplies and higher prices for the farmer’s production, but having no means of fulfilling either promise. This ponzi-like scheme often preyed upon new immigrants, and eventually led to federal charges for fraud.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.


Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Issues Warning to Farmers.” 1 March, 1912.

North Dakota State University Archives. "https://library.ndsu.edu/repository/bitstream/handle/10365/4514/3.4%20-%20President%20Ladd.pdf" https://library.ndsu.edu/repository/bitstream/handle/10365/4514/3.4%20-%20President%20Ladd.pdf Accessed 8 February, 2017.

North Dakota Studies. “Edwin F. Ladd and the Pure Food Movement.” "https://library.ndsu.edu/repository/bitstream/handle/10365/4514/3.4%20-%20President%20Ladd.pdf" https://library.ndsu.edu/repository/bitstream/handle/10365/4514/3.4%20-%20President%20Ladd.pdf Accessed 8 February, 2017.

Selene River Press. “Bleaching of Flour.”
Accessed 8 February, 2017.