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About Sickkids
About SickKids

Frederick Tisdall

When a young doctor named Frederick Tisdall first came to The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in 1921 no one could have imagined what accomplishments would follow.

In late 1929, Dr. Tisdall came into prominence when he became director of the Nutritional Research Laboratories. He was described as 'dynamic', a 'wheeler-dealer', a 'cleaver business man', and a 'publicity genius'.

The most pressing problem facing the hard working staff of the laboratory was preparing good nutritious food for babies. At that time, infants were being fed cereal and biscuits consisting mostly of wheat, oats or corn meal. All the bran and germ had to be removed because whole grain cereal was difficult for a baby to digest.

Dr. Tisdall, along with Dr. Theodore Drake, made the production of a perfect infant food their main goal. They intensified and expanded their experiments with animals, and tested foods on groups of children in the hospital and in orphanages.

All the hard work paid off when the doctors discovered how to make a mixture that contained all the essential vitamins and minerals that babies needed, yet wouldn't cause undue constipation or diarrhea. They added ingredients such as honey to make it more palatable and baked it into a biscuit, which they arranged to have manufactured by a prominent biscuit company under the name "Sunwheat."

But they weren't done yet! They realized that tiny babies can't eat biscuits. A cereal was needed that could be mixed with milk and spoon fed. So they produced a cereal that had many of the same ingredients as the biscuits. For three months, babies and older children in the hospital were fed the mixture. They liked it, they didn't become constipated, and their health improved. But the cereal had one serious drawback -- it required lengthy cooking. At that time, the practice of drying milk by letting it drip on a red-hot revolving drum and immediately scraping it off was coming into use. The researchers tried this technique with their cooked cereal and it worked. The mixture came off the drum as a bone-dry, flaky powder. Now they had a baby food that filled their requirements and would keep indefinitely. They called it "Pablum".

Tisdall recognized he had the perfect product and was determined to find the best way to market it to benefit children everywhere. This is where his keen business sense came into play. He got in touch with the executives of the Mead Johnson Company in Chicago and arranged to meet with them. After much discussion, an arrangement was worked out. In return for the permission to manufacture Pablum, SickKids would receive a royalty on every box sold. It turned out to be an excellent deal for many years. Pablum largely financed further research for the hospital.

During his time at SickKids, Tisdall was the author of The Home Care of the Infant and Child and co-author with Alan Brown of the textbook Common Procedures in the Practice of Paediatrics . He also published more than 125 scientific articles, most on the subject of nutrition. He was chairman of committees on nutrition for the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Red Cross, a member of the Canadian Council on Nutrition, the Food and Nutrition Board, National Research Council, Washington, and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada.

One day after assisting in the laying of the cornerstone of the new hospital on University Avenue, Frederick Tisdall died suddenly at the age of 56.

At the time of his death, Tisdall was associate professor of Paediatrics, University of Toronto, a physician at SickKids, and director of Research Laboratories, Department of Paediatrics, at SickKids.