From the Files of the Rochester Historical Society

When I was in 4th or 5th grade, my father gave me Landmark books for Christmas. It was a neat gift because you got one book a month for a year. The only catch was that they were all nonfiction. I read them all but enjoyed the biographies more than the ones on topics like the building of the Panama Canal. One biography that made an impression on me was that of Louis Pasteur. The book began with Louis as a young boy hearing a man screaming after being bitten by a rabid dog, a death sentence at the time. This scene made an impression on me and a lasting one on Pasteur, born in 1822.

            Pasteur grew up to become a scientist, specifically, a chemist and microbiologist. His discoveries of the principles of both vaccination and pasteurization made him famous. His chemistry research led to an understanding of both the causes and prevention of diseases. This knowledge became the foundation of today’s public health.

            While these days vaccinations have become a flashpoint for some, Pasteur’s development of vaccinations for rabies and anthrax have saved the lives of millions. About now, you are saying. “Ok, interesting but what does it have to do with Rochester history?”

            Well, one of the newest additions to our museum is a home pasteurization machine, pictured with this article. This machine came from the home of Conrad “Slim” Bernier at 84 Robinson Rd. It’s a SAFGARD Home Pasteurizer with a two- gallon capacity, perfect for a one cow family. The Berniers had that one cow, and she was named Tinkerbell.

            The way pasteurization works is using heat to kill any bacteria present in raw milk and then letting the milk cool. The directions on the pasteurization machine have arrows. The homeowner would turn the dial to the on position and the machine would heat the milk. A signal would light up when the milk was hot enough. The dial would be turned to the off position to begin the cooling process.

            Not unlike vaccinations, discussions about drinking raw milk have partisans on both sides of the issue. However, in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, prior to the use of pasteurization to kill any bacteria that may have gotten into the milk either from the cow or its environs, there were many deaths from typhoid, diphtheria, scarlet fever and other diseases traced back to contaminated milk. Pasteurization began to be used in the U.S. in the 1920’s and that combined with better hygiene practices throughout the food chain greatly decreased the presence of these diseases.

By Connie Eshbach

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