The Wistar rat as a right choice: Establishing mammalian standards and the ideal of a standardized mammal


In summary, the creation and maintenance of the Wistar Rats as standardized animals can be attributed to the breeding work of Helen Dean King, coupled with the management and husbandry methods of Milton Greenman and Louise Duhring, and with supporting documentation provided by Henry Donaldson. The widespread use of the Wistar Rats, however, is a function of the ingenuity of Milton Greenman who saw in them a way for a small institution to provide service to science. Greenman's rhetoric, as captured in his Director's Reports, prepared annually from 1905 until his death in 1937, shows that he was unusually sensitive to his times and to the economics of science and of society. In the era when biology was being defined, he recognized in the rat the potential to be a living analog to the pure chemicals that legitimated experimental science. From management literature he extracted the ideals of uniformity of product, standards of quality, and efficiency of production, applying them to scientific practice to generate an animal model that thrives as standard equipment in laboratories throughout the world today.

I will close with a quote from Frederick W. Taylor that is a cogent statement of the contribution to science and scientific progress made by standardized tools and their creators. Equating the surgeon and the workman, Taylor wrote: [He is given] the finest implements, each one of which has been the subject of special study and development ... [and] the very best knowledge of his predecessors; and, provided with standard implements and methods which represent the best knowledge of the world up to date, he is able to use his own originality and ingenuity to make real additions to the world's knowledge, instead of reinventing things which are old.

Standardized tools, whether surgeons' implements or laboratory-bred rats, are one of the vehicles for carrying scientific knowledge forward from generation to generation. In this sense, Greenman's Wistar Rats have done their job, in his words, of “providing service to science.”

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Clause, B.T. The Wistar rat as a right choice: Establishing mammalian standards and the ideal of a standardized mammal. J Hist Biol 26, 329–349 (1993).

Download citation


  • Scientific Knowledge
  • Good Knowledge
  • Scientific Practice
  • Experimental Science
  • Standardize Tool