Ira Baldwin

Ira L. Baldwin
Born (1895-08-20)August 20, 1895
Indiana, United States
Died August 9, 1999(1999-08-09) (aged 103)
Tucson, Arizona, United States
Occupation biologist
Nationality American
Subject bacteriology

Ira L. Baldwin (August 20, 1895 – August 9, 1999) was the founder and director emeritus of the Wisconsin Academy Foundation. He began teaching bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he had done his doctoral work, in 1927, and a few years later moved into what became a long career in administration. He held positions as chair of the Department of Bacteriology, dean of the Graduate School, dean and director of the College of Agriculture, university vice president for academic affairs, and special assistant to the president. He was also involved in programs for agricultural development both in the United States and abroad. Among Baldwin's many achievements was a review of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, titled "Chemicals and Pests" in the journal Science.


Early life and education

Ira Baldwin was born in 1895 on a 40-acre (160,000 m2) farm in Indiana. In his youth, he earned money to attend college by selling ducks and husking corn. In World War I, he served as a second lieutenant in an artillery unit, state-side. Baldwin attended college at Purdue but sought his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


George W. Merck, a key member of the panel advising President Franklin D. Roosevelt on aspects of biological warfare, brought many scientists into uniform for a super-secret, coordinated effort to defend against possible enemy use of biological weapons and to devise a capability to respond "in kind" to any such attack. Among them was Baldwin, then a professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin. In 1943, Baldwin became the first scientific director of the U.S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories at Camp Detrick, Maryland.[1]

America's biological weapons research program was the first time that the United States had taken full initiative to study the use of biological warfare. It all started when Baldwin and other scientists were called in for a secret meeting in Washington. After hearing that Germany and Japan were going to start the use of biological warfare, they were asked if it was possible for the United States to produce a substantial amount of their own biological agents. Baldwin responded with, "[I]f you could do it in a test tube, you could do it in a 10,000-gallon tank. If you get enough tanks I’m sure you will get tons.”[2] About a month after the meeting, Baldwin was individually called by Colonel William Kabrich of the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service and asked if he would lead the project. Although it only took him a day to say yes, Baldwin went through a lot of thought processing as he assessed the moral ramifications of what he was about to do. What he said to Kabrich was, “you start out with the idea in war of killing people, and that to me is the immoral part of it. It doesn’t make much difference how you kill them.” [3]

The first thing that Baldwin had to do was find a sight suitable for making the deadly microbes. It had to be close enough to Washington, but not too close. He chose an abandoned airfield in Maryland called Detrick Field. This later became known as Camp Detrick.[4] Next, Baldwin had to hire a staff. He recruited many people that had worked with him at the University of Wisconsin. Also, there were many other scientists along with military personnel. [5]At the end of the research, Baldwin’s word was proven to be reliable. Him and his crew had very successfully produced a large amount of biological agents to use in warfare. The thing that Baldwin was most proud of was the safety arrangements that came with the operation. Nothing went wrong, and everything came out as planned, if not better.[6]

After World War II, Baldwin returned to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, becoming the vice president of academic affairs in 1948 and special assistant to the university's president a decade later. Even after he resigned as leader of the operation, Baldwin stayed active with the biological weapons program. He stayed worried that opponents of the United States may try to subtly use microbes to harm the country. He therefore suggested many experiments, that ended up taking place, to test how certain places would be affected by possible environmental changes that come from biowarfare.[7] He died a few days before his 104th birthday in 1999.[8] He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.

See also


  1. "A History of Fort Detrick, Maryland", by Norman M. Covert (4th Edition, 2000)
  2. "The Living Weapon - Primary Resources: Ira Baldwin's Oral History." PBS LearningMedia. Acker, R. F. "In Memory of Ira Baldwin." [In English]. Asm News 65, no. 12 (Dec 1999): 808-09.
  3. PBS. "American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS.
  4. Davidson, M. "Biowarrior - a Pioneer in America's Biological Weapons Program During World War Ii, the Unassuming Dr. Ira Baldwin Was Critical to the Development of Methods That Made Large-Scale, Safe Production of the Deadly Toxins Possible." [In English]. American History 38, no. 2 (Jun 2003): 44-49.
  5. American History Magazine. "Dr. Ira Baldwin: Biological Weapons Pioneer." History Net Where History Comes Alive World US History Online Dr Ira Baldwin Biological Weapons Pioneer Comments. June 12, 2006.
  6. Gormley, Sonia. Barriers to Bioweapons: The Challenges of Expertise and Organization for Weapons Development.
  7. Regis, Ed. "The Biology of Doom." Google Books.
  8. "In Memoriam: Ira Baldwin". Digital Collections Center. University of Wisconsin. 2000. Retrieved 2008-05-09.

External links

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