The Laboratory After the Schoolhouse
Once the vaccine for Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) was proven to work, the production of the vaccine was added to the mandate of the U.S. Public Health Service’s Canyon Creek Schoolhouse laboratory. As awareness of RMSF grew, particularly among the Western states, the laboratory could hardly keep up with the orders. The schoolhouse was too small for research and vaccine production, so in 1927, the State of Montana appropriated $60,000 for a bigger building actually designed for these purposes. The owner of the rented Canyon Creek Schoolhouse would get their property back.
The new building, located at what today is the intersection of Fourth and Grove streets on the southwest edge of Hamilton, was designed to protect workers and the town. Rounded seams where the walls met the floors gave ticks one less place to hide. Mirrors enabled workers to examine themselves for ticks and there were plenty of autoclaves to heat workers' clothes to kill ticks hiding in the seams. A so-called moat–really a strip of sticky goo–was placed around the building to keep ticks in, and the property was surrounded by fencing to keep animals and people out.
Building One was larger than the Canyon Creek Schoolhouse laboratory and full of modern laboratory amenities when it opened in May 1928. There were special rooms for refrigeration, tick-rearing, and vaccine-production. And soon special animal rearing and holding pens were added at the back of the building. Building One remains used for research today.
This photo was taken on June 17, 1927 on the site for the future laboratory, now known as “Building One,” in Hamilton, Montana. Image: Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum, 4432a
The new laboratory, Building One, under construction on September 9, 1927. Image: Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum, 4434b
Building One was a three-story red brick building with several small, one-story buildings in the rear for animals and storage. Finished in 1928 by state of Montana, the building was bought by the federal government in 1931 for the U.S. Public Health Service’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory (the name was made plural in 1982). Image: Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum, 1527
This photo taken in June 1937 showed Building One’s walk-in refrigerator full of RMSF vaccine vials. Image: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, 692
When Building One opened, the ceremony was attended by dignitaries from state health offices in the West and by U.S. Surgeon General Hugh S. Cumming. They posed for several photographs with Rocky Mountain Laboratory staff on the steps of the new building. The laboratory name was made plural in 1982.
First row: Dr. Robert A. Cooley, Dr. Cornelius B. Philip, unknown, Dr. Lewis Thompson, Dr. Ralph Parker, Surgeon General Hugh Cumming, and unknown.
If you can identify any of these other people, please let us know. Image: Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum, 1532-1
The Rocky Mountain Laboratory staff posed on the steps of their new laboratory building in May 1928. Seated in the second row on the far left is Dr. Ralph Parker. Tentatively identified are LeRoy Jones (2nd row, 2nd from right); James Kerlee (1st row, far right); Harley G. Sargent (2nd row, third from right); and Harry L. Sargent (2nd row, far right). The laboratory name was made plural in 1982.
If you can identify any of these people, please let us know. Image: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, 444
Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML), as the campus is known today, became part of the U.S. Public Health Service’s Division of Scientific Research in 1935, but soon became part of the National Institute of Health (NIH-then singular) in 1937. Now it is part of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Today, RML conducts basic scientific research, the starting point leading to clinical research, in about 30 buildings on 36 acres of land, and employs about 450 people. Laboratories with the highest biosafety levels allow researchers to perform maximum containment research securely and safely. RML also provides services to other NIH institutes. For example, a Genomics Core provides cutting-edge technology and consultation to researchers in the areas of gene sequencing and gene expression. Researchers receive results rapidly and in an easy-to-understand format that enables them to quickly determine potential vaccine candidates, diagnostics, and the like. The Microscopy Core Unit offers unparalleled expertise and instrumentation in electron and confocal microscopy.
Imagine the look of delight—and probably jealousy—on Dr. Ralph Parker’s face if he could turn from unloading the small truckload of equipment into the Canyon Creek Schoolhouse laboratory in September 1921, to see the campus and technology available to the Rocky Mountain Laboratories today.
Image: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, 2015