Kedzie Chemical Laboratory (1927)
Dr. Robert C. Kedzie. Photo Credit: Beal, p. 407.
Robert Clark Kedzie was born January 28, 1823, in Delhi, New York. He studied chemistry at Oberlin College and then moved to Ann Arbor, where he earned an M.D. in the first class of the University’s newly formed medical school in 1851.[Beal, p. 406] While there he “presented an outstanding thesis on a recent outbreak of cholera in Kalamazoo,” concluding that panaceas were ineffectual and that patients who recovered did so due to natural immunities and “their ‘simple recuperative energies.’”[Kuhn, p. 106] Kedzie practiced medicine for eleven years in Kalamazoo and Vermontville, Michigan, before enlisting in the Union army (12th Michigan Infantry) as a Surgeon. He was captured during the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, and after his parole resigned his commission due to ill health. A few months later, at the age of forty, Kedzie changed his profession and joined the faculty of M.A.C. on February 25, 1863, as Professor of Chemistry, moving his family onto Faculty Row, in one of the four original faculty houses (later known as № 5).[Beal, p. 406. Kuhn, pp. 85, 106]
Professor Kedzie quickly established himself as an excellent teacher, well-liked and respected by students and faculty alike. At first he taught in the main lecture hall of College Hall; he was instrumental in the design and layout of the Chemical Laboratory in 1871, where he then presided for more than three decades.*
Professor Kedzie lectures on petroleum in the Chemical Laboratory he helped design, 1892. The door at left leads to the laboratory proper. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives. Reprinted in McCristal, p. 24.
Kedzie was hugely influential in the growth of the College, and was also something of a polymath, with interests that ranged throughout the sciences. He kept daily logs of weather conditions and provided them to the Board of Agriculture’s annual report, now the oldest continuous record in the state. Believing that the depletion of Michigan’s forests was causing farm produce losses due to frost and drought, he drafted legislation that enacted a tax break for landowners who planted roadside trees. He also experimented with different soil amendments, finding in particular that the muck dug from the tamarack swamp located just north of the later site of Morrill Hall made an excellent fertilizer. (For various reasons this experiment tended to ruffle the feathers of the professors of agriculture and horticulture, and Kedzie was forced by the Board to abandon further field experiments.)[Kuhn, pp. 106–107]
Undaunted, Dr. Kedzie found other avenues to pursue. He is today most famously known as the “father of the beet sugar industry in Michigan,” for he demonstrated the viability of this crop in southern Michigan and over the course of six years analyzed samples from some 600 farms to determine the varieties best suited to the region. He also served as president of several important public service organizations: the Michigan Medical Society in 1874, the Michigan State Board of Health from 1877 until 1881, the American Public Health Association in 1882, and the Association of Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations in 1899.[Stanford, p. 79]
While on the State Board of Health, he wrote on the dangers of arsenic in wallpaper, which was used as a colorant called “Paris green.” The arsenic would flake off the walls, and over time occupants of a home papered in Paris green could absorb a fatal dose. Dramatically, Kedzie cut up several rolls of wallpaper and “bound them into one hundred books entitled Shadows from the Walls of Death, which he placed in libraries throughout the state.”* This quickly led to the end of arsenical wallpaper.[Kuhn, p. 108]
Dr. Kedzie’s accomplishments could fill several books. He was certainly a source of great pride to the Michigan Agricultural College—a pride he returned in kind, as his three sons all graduated from M.A.C., and all three went on to teach chemistry. William K. (’70) taught at Kansas State; Robert F. (’71) joined the faculty of Mississippi State; and Frank S. (’77) joined the M.A.C. staff in 1880.
Robert C. Kedzie received two honorary degrees late in life, each a sign of his peers’ high esteem: a D.Sc from M.A.C. in 1898, and an LL.D from the University in 1901. He retired at the age of 79, and died shortly thereafter, on November 7, 1902. Frank S. Kedzie, known to the students as “Uncle Frank,” succeeded his father as Professor of Chemistry, and served as the tenth President of the College from 1915 to 1923.[Beal, p. 407. Kuhn, p. 261. Stanford, p. 80]
By the time of R. C. Kedzie’s passing, his old Chemical Laboratory was already rapidly becoming obsolete. Even a second addition to that building in 1911 did little to alleviate its space and technology issues. In 1927, a new laboratory was completed, and named in honor of Dr. Kedzie.
Kedzie Chemical Laboratory, Autumn 1992. Despite the best efforts of the M.S.U. Grounds department to protect the large American Elm tree in front of the main entrance from Dutch elm disease, it later had to be removed. Photo Credit: Kevin S. Forsyth.
The Kedzie Chemical Laboratory was designed by the Detroit firm of Malcomson and Higginbotham in fine Collegiate Gothic style. The main entrance hall evokes a medieval castle with high, vaulted ceilings, rusticated stone walls, and decorative leaded-glass windows. (Prior to construction of the South Kedzie Hall addition in 1966, the dark wood paneling and ceiling vaults extended throughout the main corridors.)
Within, a large auditorium accommodates several hundred students. The building’s efficient and useful “system of small ‘unit laboratories’ each accommodating a single class section,” is credited to Professor A. J. Clark. At the time of its construction, Kedzie Lab replaced a portion of the farm building complex, which that same year began its migration to a site south of the river (about where the Engineering Building and Anthony Hall stand today). A small chemical engineering laboratory was completed to the west of Kedzie at the same time, just north of where the Computer Center now stands.[Kuhn, pp. 293, 306]