The Fascinating History of Vitamin Discovery

The discovery of vitamins was a major breakthrough in our understanding of health and disease. In 1912, Casimir Funk first coined the term. Before the early 20th century, people had long recognized the importance of certain foods for health, but it wasn't until after the turn of the century that these factors were identified and synthesized. In 1946, major vitamin producers established the National Vitamin Foundation to fund vitamin research in academic laboratories. Neither medicine nor food, the vitamin pill was born at the beginning of the 20th century and came into its own during World War II.

Modern flour refining had stripped bread of its natural vitamins and minerals, depriving Americans of the nourishment they needed. Vitamin D-fortified milk was introduced in the early 1930s, although fortification was achieved mainly by irradiating the milk with ultraviolet light rather than by adding vitamins in bulk. This “vitamin for morale” was seen as essential to the nation's well-being. New technologies made it possible to spray vitamins into foods, such as the processed flakes that Americans ate for breakfast. Later, researchers discovered that the outer layer of rice is rich in vitamin B1 (also known as thiamine).

However, a balanced diet usually provides an adequate supply of vitamins, and there is little evidence that extra vitamins from supplements make much difference. Vitamin B12 was isolated in 1948 by two teams working independently in the United States and the United Kingdom, from a substance in the liver called cobalamin. Throughout the 20th century, scientists were able to isolate and identify the various vitamins found in foods. As its name implies, One-A-Day was a vitamin pill taken once a day, unlike Vimms and Stams which required multiple pills per day. The daily vitamin pill continues to have a strong influence on us, even though numerous studies have cast doubt on whether taking these supplements is beneficial.

Ben Liebhardt
Ben Liebhardt

Amateur travel fanatic. General web buff. Certified travel junkie. Twitter nerd. Infuriatingly humble web practitioner. Certified beer nerd.

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