Food Science, 1925-1957
One of the founders of food science, Carl R. Fellers was trained as a chemist and became an expert in the nutritional value of cranberry juice. Born in Hastings, New York in 1893, Fellers earned his BA from Cornell in 1915 and his MS and PhD from Rutgers in 1918. In recognition of service during the First World War, he was awarded a Medal of Merit for fighting the influenza.
Fellers arrived at the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1925, joining the relatively new Department of Horticultural Manufactures. Almost immediately, he embarked on an ambitious research program that drew on disciplines as diverse as chemistry, bacteriology, nutrition, engineering, and food preservation. His research and the new processes he developed resulted in vast economic benefits to the food industry in the Commonwealth. His patent for a new process for canning and freezing shellfish that helped prevent discoloration and the proliferation of impurities was considered one of the most important inventions in the industry in the early twentieth century, and his work with the The Cranberry Exchange, a growers' and producers' organization, helped lay the groundwork for more efficient preservation and higher nutritional value for their products. Fellers worked with professional organizations such as the National Canners Association to improve sanitation in the industry and to develop appropriate federal standards to ensure food safety, and he was involved in innovative work in packaging, color and flavor retention, and vitamin enrichment.
With the retirement of Walter W. Chenoweth in 1941, Fellers was appointed head of the department and soon began shifting course. In response to wartime demands, he expanded the program in community food preservation begun under Chenoweth, to promote canning foods for the University's dining hall. While on active duty with the army, and stationed in Australia, he was credited with establishing 33 dehydration plants that provided dried milk and egg products to the troops, earning a Bronze Star for his efforts.
Under Fellers' leadership, the department shifted emphasis from the study of domestic to industrial production, building stronger ties with the departments of Chemistry, Bacteriology, Dairy, and Nutrition Science. Reflecting this shift, the Department was renamed in 1944 to the Department of Food Technology, which later became the Department of Food Science. Encouraging scholarship in his field, Fellers helped found the Institute of Food Technologists and as department head, authorized the establishment of Phi Tau Sigma, the first Food Science and Technology Honors Society. The Institute of Food Technologists established the Carl R. Fellers Award to honor distinguished leaders in Food Science. Fellers retired from the University in 1957.