Mary Engle Pennington

Mary Engle Pennington (1872-1952) the “Ice Woman” was a chemist and bacteriologist who worked for the USDA and the FDA to revolutionize the storage and transportation of perishable food items. She attended the University of Pennsylvania but when she completed the requirements for a B.S., she was denied a degree because she was a woman, and given a certificate of proficiency in biology instead. Three years later, however, UPenn did grant her a Ph.D. She founded the Philadelphia Clinical Laboratory which focused on providing bacteriological analyses for physicians. She then became the director of the bacteriological laboratory of the Philadelphia Department of Health and Charities, where she developed the standards and techniques for dairy inspection and cold storage that have been popularized throughout the country. She taught physiological chemistry at the Women’s Medical College from 1989-1906. She joined the Bureau of Chemistry at the newly-instated USDA in 1907 (a family friend and mentor, Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, submitted her entrance exam with the name M.E.Pennington to disguise her gender) and within a year was promoted to Director of the Food Research Laboratory.  She established national standards for hygiene and storage in every step of food production (including changing the basic strategy for slaughtering chickens, and inventing the modern egg crate) from standardizing ice-cooled refrigerator cars to humidity-controlled cold storage. She continued working in her own lab in Philadelphia, where she explored and invented methods of storing and shipping dairy and other perishable food items safely.She left Philadelphia for NYC in 1919 where she ran the research department at American Balsa Company, an insulation manufacturer. She opened a consulting business, which she ran until her death, marketed to food storage and shipping companies.