A Close-Up of Dr. Royal Lee—A Many-Sided Genius

By Jonathan Forman, MD

Summary: Dr. Jonathan Forman was an esteemed medical doctor who pioneered the field of environmental medicine and launched and edited the famous cutting-edge journal Clinical Physiology. From 1968 to the present, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has presented the prestigious Jonathan Forman Award annually to doctors and researchers who make outstanding contributions to environmental medicine. In this biography of Dr. Royal Lee, Dr. Forman writes, “in the field of ‘health through nutrition’, [Dr. Lee] stands out as the Empire State Building on the New York skyline.” High praise indeed. Published by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, 1964.

The following is a transcription of the original Archives document. To view or download the original document, click here.

A Close-Up of Dr. Royal Lee—A Many-Sided Genius

A substantial number of people in the United States, including many physicians, have begun to realize the close connection that exists between food and health. Today’s rapidly increasing knowledge of the vital role of proper nutrition to physical well-being represents a distinct change from the opinions held a generation ago, at which time anyone who maintained such beliefs was considered a quack. A number of men are due the credit for this changed attitude, but no one has done more to bring it about than Dr. Royal Lee of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the field of “health through nutrition,” he stands out as conspicuously as the Empire State Building does on the New York skyline.

Strange to relate, Dr. Lee is not a Doctor of Medicine but is a Doctor of Dentistry. He studied for and got that degree because he believed it would help him in what he wanted to do, namely, to reduce the cost to dentists of their high priced dental equipment, which he did to his profit and their delight.

Royal Lee was born on a farm in southwest Wisconsin on April 7, 1895, of Norwegian ancestry—his grandparents having immigrated to southern Wisconsin in 1845. His boyhood was spent on his father’s farm, and in 1913 he graduated from Dodgeville (Wisconsin) High School. Upon graduating, having an intense interest in all things mechanical, he started working in a machine shop. Very soon he had his own shop; in addition he organized a school for auto mechanics. These activities were terminated upon his entering the army in WWI. Upon his discharge, after returning from service with the U.S. Army overseas, he went to Milwaukee with five dollars in his pocket and enrolled in Marquette University.

Dentistry—A Means to an End

During his prewar years, Lee had become especially interested in dental equipment and came to the conclusion that dental machinery was too high priced and not as efficient as it could be. Accordingly, at Marquette, instead of taking a course in mechanics—his natural bent—in order to know more about the problems of dentists and their equipment, he took the course in dentistry, and in 1924 he graduated with honors from the school’s dental college, receiving a degree of DDS [Doctor of Dental Surgery].

Upon graduation, pursuant to his desire to aid the dental profession in its mechanical problem, Dr. Lee perfected one of the devices on which he had been working for some time: a foot control motor device for dental offices. A patent—the first of many subsequent ones granted to him—was issued to him for this invention in November of 1924. Dr. Lee formed the Lee Dental Appliance Company to manufacture and market this device and various other types of dental equipment. He succeeded in turning out better appliances at a lower cost than any others on the market.

One of his theses his senior year was “The Systemic Causes of Dental Caries,” which even now, forty years later, is a standard treatise on the subject. It was his research in connection with this thesis that alerted him to the relationship of nutrition to health. He realized at this comparatively early age that it was much more logical to prevent dental troubles than to repair them after they had developed. (In this connection it may be noted that, as a group, dentists have been aware of the importance of proper nutrition longer than most medical doctors have.) This thesis and the research required for its preparation were to have a profound effect on his future activities, as will appear farther on.

A Mechanical Genius

Today, Dr. Lee is regarded as the outstanding leader in the fields of nutrition and health, but long before he was known in this connection, he was internationally famous as a mechanical genius. His accomplishments with machinery in his youth caused him to be regarded as a prodigy. His later inventions and many-sided genius have caused many to regard him as a modern day Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Edison.

Of the more than 100 patents that have been granted him, two in particular made him celebrated. One was for a centrifugal switch for controlling the speed of small motors. Engineers of the largest electrical firms in the country and the most brilliant electrical engineers throughout the world had been trying for years to devise a successful governor of this type, without success. This modest, unassuming, Wisconsin farm boy, a dentist, succeeded where the great of the world had failed.

This patent, which was granted on May 31, 1927, was the basis for the incorporation of the Lee Engineering Company, to manufacture and sell this governor. The firm manufactured governors for various motor devices, but progress was slow until the Air Reduction Sales Company of New York started using his governor motor on their flame cutting apparatus. This was so successful that they adopted it for all of their machines, and before long other companies followed suit.

The Lee customer list now embraces all the major electrical manufacturers and many other companies. A partial list of products in which the Lee governor is found includes electric adding machines, electric typewriters, sound movie cameras and projectors, kitchen food mixers, fusion welding equipment, flame cutting machinery, drill presses, and various other devices.

The Speed Governor

One of Dr. Lee’s most important inventions was the speed governor, used in motors and in all instruments where close time intervals must be established or where constant speeds must be maintained. These devices are not available from any other source except in cumbersome and bulky form. One model is used on radar apparatus. One big electrical manufacturing firm supplied the first radar equipment with governors at a cost to the government of $3,800 each. The Lee governor later was specified because it was more accurate and priced at $32 each!

Lee Engineering Company products were used in many war instruments where close time intervals or constant speeds were essential. Every plane on every fighting front (except trainers) carried at least one Lee governor. On large planes such as the Boeing Super Fortress, there were as many as a dozen Lee governors. Some of these aircraft uses of the governor were in automatic pilots, automatic gun sights, radio, radar, propeller pitch control, and explosives release devices.

Savior of the U.S. Navy

The famed Norden bombsight used the Lee governor to measure the time intervals of bomb dropping. And Sperry Gyroscope Company used the governor in the instrument credited with saving the navy in WWII, a device used in guns on battleships that quickly calculates the angles by which the guns must “lead” in order to hit a fast-moving target, such as an airplane.

In the early stage of WWII, the Japanese sank a number of British and American warships and probably would have sent the rest to the bottom had it not been for this device. [It was] first used on the U.S. warship South Dakota on October 26, 1942; thirty-two enemy planes were shot down in her first major engagement. Subsequently, all vessels were equipped with the device. Because of the greatly increased accuracy of firing mechanisms equipped with Dr. Lee’s inventions, he has been called “the savior of the U.S. Navy”!

An Indispensable Device of Many Uses

Earlier uses or variations of this speed governor were in telephone equipment and motion picture sound equipment. When “talking pictures” came out in 1926–1927, Bell Telephone Laboratories had [a speed governor] selling for $1,200; Dr. Lee sold his to them for $3.50 each, and he holds the account to this day.

In reproducing sound there must be consistency of speed, or the music will be off-key. The Lee speed control device was first to hold this consistency. Lee governors have been found indispensable for recording and reproducing sound in television. They are also used in most adding machines and calculating machines. The latest field to use them is the machine tool field, for which new and larger governors have been developed.

Still another use of the Lee motor control is in a steel cutting apparatus using oxygen as the cutting agent. The welding-and-cutting industry uses this instrument, and it enabled Henry Kaiser to break records in shipbuilding, where his pantograph cutting machines sliced steel plates as if they were butter. Most of the ships and naval craft built during WWII were made with steel plates. Nearly all battleships, as well as submarines, carry other Lee devices among their equipment.

[Dr. Lee] holds patents on nearly 100 improvements for electrical and speed controls for motors. In the early twenties, he filed a patent application of a hydraulic valve compensator, but automobile manufacturers would not buy it. Today, however, it is standard equipment.

Discovered Explosive Effects of Hydrogen

Among other ideas that didn’t find acceptance by the brass was Dr. Lee’s formula for landing shells “anywhere, including on the moon, by utilizing hydrogen.” (At that time he was Private Royal Lee, age 22, Company A, 311th supply train.)

The Germans had startled the world with the bombardment of Paris by Big Bertha. Young Lee had collected data revealing the potentialities of hydrogen as an explosive agent. He sent the war department in Washington a complete report of his research, together with specifications of construction of equipment. In his files is a letter signed by Lt. Col. R.A. Millikan of the Science and Research Department, AS, AP, affirming:

“Your letter of September 4, referring to experiments with an explosive mixture by the use of which hydrogen was the chief gas produced, has been referred to one of our technical men. His reply is transmitted herewith.

“In addition to what he has said, we wish to call your attention to the fact the supply of materials you have used is comparatively limited, and the materials are consequently too expensive to be used on a large scale in this way.”

Our government and other governments have done much work in this field since then.

Custom-Made Special-Purpose Motors

Some years ago, Eastman Kodak asked Lee Engineering Company to build a motor for testing purposes that would spin 30,000 rpm. The company produced the motor requested. With that order the company commenced producing custom-made motors.

In another request, for a motor to be used on fighter planes that required lighter camera equipment, Dr. Lee designed a motor that reduced the weight from 8.5 pounds to 3.5 pounds yet delivered more than twice the power. After the war this motor was used in the Lee Household Flour Mill.

Over One Hundred Patents

Since the first patent granted to Dr. Lee—on November 4, 1924 (patent number 1,514,546)—over 100 patents have been granted to him, covering a diversity of items such as governors for electric motors, a variable speed transmission, [equipment for] the preservation of liquid foods, and an “endocardiograph,” which amplifies and records heart sounds.

An endocardiograph is an important tool in the Lee kit. Described by Dr. Lee as “a definite diagnostic aid,” the instrument records metabolic changes based on vitamin deficiency. A patient’s progress, or lack thereof, is thus recorded at will.

The Lee Engineering Company has three different plants, [all manufacturing] devices that have come from the fertile brain of Dr. Royal Lee.

Nutrition—His Deepest Interest and Greatest Achievement

While activity in the mechanical and electrical fields has occupied a sizable percentage of Dr. Lee’s time, he does not boast about these accomplishments. “I consider our research on natural vitamins far more important than any of these engineering discoveries,” he says. “There is actually more research in one vitamin tablet than there is in the whole gun sight that saved the navy.”

His deepest interest in biochemistry and nutrition dates back over forty years, as evidenced by the treatise delivered to his senior class at Marquette Dental School in December 1923. That paper, still in print, is a scholarly summation in support of the principle that malnutrition is the basis of tooth decay and disease in general.

During the five years after that thesis, Dr. Lee’s research led him to the conclusion that there are marked differences in clinical effectiveness between vitamins from different sources and that those from natural sources are far more effective than synthetic ones.

The Search Starts

Having become convinced that malnutrition is to disease what correct nutrition is to health, Dr. Lee set about unlocking the secrets of how to prepare, from natural sources, compounds containing the known vitamins and minerals. The brain that conceived the speed governor and the explosive powder of hydrogen met the challenge in the far-removed field of nutrition.

A vitamin concentrate made from entirely natural sources (“Catalyn”) was produced by Dr. Lee in 1929. At the onset this product was provided solely for the health and welfare of his mother and intimate friends and was simply given away. However, because of the remarkable results achieved—many in cases previously regarded as beyond help—the fame of the concentrate spread rapidly. At first Catalyn was distributed only among dentist friends, who soon discovered that its use in patients helped prevent colds and was helpful in heart cases. Dr. Lee’s further research proved that heart disease has the same background as dental disease—malnutrition. Soon, the Lee organization started contacting physicians as well as dentists about their products.

The Vitamins Products Company was organized in 1930. The first original product (Catalyn) became the nucleus of a complete line of nutritional vitamin and mineral supplements. The company’s success has been outstanding. From a small two-room office, the manufacturing and research departments have grown to more than 50,000 square feet. The Vitamin Products Company has become the world’s largest producer of natural nutrition supplements. Today, in 1964, over 15,000 medical doctors prescribe Lee Products, and the list is constantly growing.

For many years Dr. Lee has contended that most functional heart trouble and most chronic degenerative diseases can be traced to improper nutrition and a lack of proper vitamins in the diet. Because of his outspoken stand, he has been bitterly criticized by many so-called “experts” in medical societies, government bureaus, and elsewhere. However, many statements that his critics called “reckless” fifteen years ago are now being confirmed in other scientific laboratories.

Not all of the scientific fraternity, however, has been on the side of the critics. Dr. Lee has been invited to speak before many meetings of scientists and physicians. He is known throughout America as a fearless speaker on nutrition. In 1942 he was elected to fellowship in the American Association of the Advancement of Science.

A Foundation Is Born

Almost a decade after Vitamin Products Company was launched, Dr. Lee, in 1941, organized the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, with its headquarters at 2023 West Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee. A nonprofit corporation, it was established as a research project with two objectives:

  1. Research to find remedies to correct malnutrition-caused diseases
  2. Education of the medical professions and the lay public in the importance of proper nutrition

The Lee Foundation is the largest of its kind, and in its more than two decades of existence, it has disseminated many millions of pieces of literature and hundreds of thousands of books. It makes available, at savings, the most authoritative and most important literature dealing with health and nutrition.

The foundation has had phenomenal success and has made many spectacular discoveries. (See the pamphlet on the foundation for a brief outline of these discoveries.)

A Man of Many Talents

Dr. Lee is indeed a man of many talents and wide interests. He is a keen student who has always learned from everything he was required to do. He is as much at home in the chemical laboratory or engineering shop as on the lecture platform. He unifies his many interests with a sincere zeal for bringing to the public the better things of life, whether it be mechanical devices to do something better and cheaper, the finest unadulterated foods and food products, or the most authentic and scientific information on nutrition and allied fields.

In 1918, while still in the army, he married Miss Evelyn Egan. After forty-five years, the players on that team remain unchanged. In fact, they give the impression of still being on their honeymoon instead of approaching their golden wedding anniversary.

Dr. Lee has created a number of excellent processes for preserving the natural food factors in vitamin products. He does not endorse the use of synthetic food factors in his vitamins because such synthetic factors have only a pharmaceutical action and not a nutritional one.

Though his achievements have brought Dr. Lee a measure of commercial and financial success, he has never lost his idealism. His is not a success bought at the expense of his principles. Most of the processes Dr. Lee has developed are available to others on a modest royalty basis.

It is not the lure of the dollar [that drives him] but the wish to contribute to science and human progress and to put out high-grade, beneficial products. Dr. Lee was inspired when he learned that natural food factors had physiological properties that synthetic vitamins could not supply. He was guided by his scientific principles, rather than his commercial interests, to put natural ingredients into his vitamin products. Fortunes were being made by other companies capitalizing on the public’s interest in vitamins. This meant nothing to Dr. Lee. Instead, he devoted himself to the problem of extracting [vital] natural food factors for his products until he succeeded. However, [that said], he does not believe the public should self-diagnose their ailments and select vitamins without consulting a physician first.

A True Crusader

Dr. Lee has been an enemy of sham and fraud and has championed many causes in the interest of better health, giving generously of his time, energy, knowledge, and funds. His fundamental philosophy is summed up by the following sentence:

“The Lee Foundation will support sound principles from whatever source derived, and it will oppose false principles and harmful practices and products no matter how powerful or vindictive the organization that enunciates or uses them.”

Fortunately for the world at large, Dr. Lee is imbued with tremendous courage. He is utterly fearless in opposing even the most powerful interests when the things they advocate or sell are injurious to the health of the American people.

For instance, he has vigorously opposed the bleaching of flour and the use of other poisons in the growing and processing of food as well as the fluoridation of water. As a consequence of his active and effective opposition to the powerful, entrenched, mercenary interests behind these practices, he has incurred their bitter enmity, and they have resorted to all sorts of low tactics in an attempt to silence and discredit him.

However, their efforts have been in vain, for his principles and his products are in greater use today than ever before. Dr. Lee’s concerns are growing by leaps and bounds because the American people, through their innate common sense and through experience, are realizing more keenly every day that proper nutrition truly does produce health. Dr. Lee’s greatest satisfaction is in helping chronic and seemingly incurable cases back to health through improved nutrition. In this he has been successful in countless thousands of cases.

His tremendous fund of knowledge, his quiet and unassuming manner, his modesty and simplicity, his sincere desire to be of service to his fellow man—all these and many other commendable traits endear him to all who know him or come in contact with him. Dr. Lee is also a stalwart advocate of the principle of private enterprise and individual liberty and application of the Golden Rule—not only in relationships between individuals but also between nations.

Man with a Mission

Dr. Royal Lee is the soul of unselfishness. His generous nature prompts him even to aid his business competitors. As [mentioned], all the processes he has developed are available to other manufactures for a modest royalty. Also, in spite of the fact that he is the nation’s largest manufacturer of natural vitamins and food supplements, he contends that if people would just eat the proper food, they would have no need for added vitamins or supplements.

He has made many hundreds of speeches and written hundreds of articles and pamphlets on the subject of “health through nutrition,” all with no compensation other than the satisfaction derived from helping others live longer and more healthfully.

Dr. Lee’s book Protomorphology, coauthored by William A. Hanson, one of his assistants, is a study of cell autoregulation and is one of the most profound and learned scientific treatises yet written in the field of nutrition. It deals with the subjects of biological growth factors and the problems of aging, and it is a standard source book for biological researchers.

Without question Dr. Royal Lee is the best known, most respected, and most highly regarded person in the natural nutrition field. Tens of thousands of people alive today owe their life and freedom from suffering to his many-sided genius.

Greatness Is as Greatness Does

It has been truly said that every great institution is but the lengthened shadow of a great man. By that reasoning Dr. Lee must then be three great men, for three great institutions have been originated, inspired, and developed to outstanding success by him: (1) The Lee Engineering Company (2) Vitamins Products Company, and (3) the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research. Each is dedicated to the welfare of the human race.

Perhaps there is something, after all, in that ancient philosophy that holds, “If thou would accomplish something worthwhile, forget thyself, and dedicate thy efforts to the betterment of thy fellow men.”

Dr. Lee has done this to a greater degree than probably anyone of this generation. Perhaps we would all be better off if we were to “go and do likewise.”

By Dr. Jonathan Forman. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, 1964. 


Patrick Earvolino, CN

Patrick Earvolino is a Certified Nutritionist and Special Projects Editor for Selene River Press, Inc.

Products by Patrick Earvolino

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