Carleton Fredericks

Carlton Fredericks

What does it take to become America’s fore­most nutri­tion­ist? Shouldn’t you have to have at least some train­ing in nutri­tion? Not if you have the gift of gab and your own radio show based in New York City! Then you can devel­op a devot­ed fan base and a lucra­tive rela­tion­ship with a com­pa­ny that sells vit­a­mins. The radio show pro­vides a plat­form for you to mar­ket your books, thus mak­ing you even more of a house­hold name. If you are real­ly slick, you can even get your­self appoint­ed to teach a course at a uni­ver­si­ty for a few years, until the state depart­ment of edu­ca­tion finds out. In the mean­time, you can pro­vide mis­lead­ing and some­times dan­ger­ous advice about food and vit­a­mins.

Harold Carl­ton Caplan received his bachelor’s degree in Eng­lish (with a minor in polit­i­cal sci­ence) in 1931 from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alaba­ma. He had no train­ing in dietet­ics or med­i­cine. In 1937, he start­ed work­ing for the U.S. Vit­a­min Cor­po­ra­tion, writ­ing adver­tis­ing copy and giv­ing pro­mo­tion­al speech­es. He pre­sent­ed him­self as “Direc­tor of Pro­fes­sion­al Edu­ca­tion.” By the ear­ly 1940s, he changed his name to Car­leton Fred­er­icks, got some let­ter­head describ­ing him­self as the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Insti­tute for Nutri­tion Research, and land­ed his own radio show, which was even­tu­al­ly syn­di­cat­ed. He also had a minor set­back, plead­ing guilty to a charge of prac­tic­ing med­i­cine with­out a license.

In 1955, Fred­er­icks got a PhD degree from New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Edu­ca­tion. The research for his doc­tor­al the­sis had noth­ing to do with any sci­ence relat­ed to nutri­tion or health. Instead, it was a sur­vey to find out how much infor­ma­tion some women had retained from lis­ten­ing to his spiel, and how it affect­ed their food-buy­ing habits. Yet this degree enabled him to trans­form him­self yet again, into “Dr.” Car­leton Fred­er­icks.

The apogee of his career was when he got him­self to be appoint­ed assis­tant pro­fes­sor of nutri­tion at Fair­leigh Dick­in­son Uni­ver­si­ty in New Jer­sey, where he taught a course in “Health Edu­ca­tion” that was required for the bach­e­lor of arts degree. This last­ed only a few years, until the New Jer­sey State Nutri­tion Coun­cil heard about the mis­in­for­ma­tion about food and nutri­tion that was being taught at Fair­leigh Dick­in­son. The coun­cil pre­pared a con­fi­den­tial report to the New Jer­sey State Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, and Fred­er­icks left Fair­leigh Dick­in­son soon after.

Fred­er­icks also ran into trou­ble with the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion, the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion, and the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, because of his rela­tion­ship with a com­pa­ny that sold vit­a­min prepa­ra­tions and his par­tic­i­pa­tion in help­ing them sell their wares. The com­pa­ny described Fred­er­icks as their “Chief Con­sul­tant” and an “inter­na­tion­al­ly famous nutri­tion­ist” who had spent “long years of research and prac­tice in the field of sci­en­tif­ic nutri­tion” and who “has either for­mu­lat­ed or test­ed and approved” the for­mu­la­tions list­ed in their cat­a­log. At one point, the FDA seized the company’s prod­ucts, charg­ing that the label­ing, includ­ing the cat­a­log, and the company’s mar­ket­ing claims were false and mis­lead­ing.

Some of the ideas that Fred­er­icks pro­mot­ed were not only untrue, they were dan­ger­ous, includ­ing his rec­om­men­da­tion to use high dos­es of vit­a­min A to treat con­di­tions like acne. In real­i­ty, vit­a­min A over­dos­es are use­less and can cause per­ma­nent blind­ness and death.

Dr. Car­leton Fred­er­icks was a sales­man, and his main prod­uct was Dr. Car­leton Fred­er­icks. He used that “brand” for his own greater glo­ry and to line his pock­ets with mon­ey from the vit­a­min sell­ers. He knew noth­ing about health or nutri­tion, but he knew how to sell vit­a­mins. Peo­ple who took his nutri­tion­al advice did so at their per­il.

Further reading

The Vit­a­min Heal­ers: A Close Look at Car­leton Fred­er­icks (1965), by Ralph Lee Smith