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Friday, October 7, 2011

The First Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in the U.S.

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted October 7, 2011.

Everyone has to start at the beginning, even if that person is destined to become one of the most famous veterinarians in history. On this date, October 7, 143 years ago, Daniel Salmon began his veterinary studies when Cornell University opened its doors for the first time. He would become the nation's first D.V.M. graduate.(1)

Celebrating what came to be known as the university's Inauguration Day, founder Ezra Cornell said, “I hope we have laid the foundation of an institution which shall combine practical with liberal education …. [and] which shall prove beneficial to the poor young men and poor young women of our country.” Wisely, Ezra Cornell also insisted that veterinary medicine be among the subjects to be taught from the very beginning of his new university.

Daniel Elmer Salmon
(Photo by Cornell University)
James Law, an eminent Scottish veterinarian had arrived in Ithaca only weeks earlier to become the nation’s first university professor of veterinary medicine. Though Professor Law had several students who became leaders in veterinary medicine and animal health research in the late 19th century, none was more famous than Daniel Salmon.

When the Bureau of Animal Industry was established in 1894 to promote the health of livestock, and to establish a national standard for meat inspection, Daniel Salmon was chosen as its first director. He is also attributed with the discovery of the bacterial organism that bears his name, Salmonella.

The students who started their veterinary education at Cornell in August of this year have a special kinship with every new veterinary student who has entered this university since Daniel Salmon. Though they are now immersed in the challenging studies that are necessary in the making of a veterinarian, they can also look with pride at the man who started on a similar journey 143 years ago today.

(1) Salmon actually received his veterinary degree in 1872.  At that time, the degree was called the B.V.M. and he was the the second Cornell student to be so recognized.  Salmon then did postgraduate work in Europe and Cornell to qualify for the DVM degree in 1876.  In the modern era, that additional work would roughly quality for what we now designate as the PhD. So, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Salmon received his equivalent of the DVM in 1872, and the modern equivalent of the PhD in 1876.

Dr. Smith invites comments at