Royal Lee—The Man

By Don C. Matchan

Summary: The Herald of Health was a popular natural foods and lifestyle magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. This biographical sketch, published by the magazine in 1959, recounts events of the life of famed natural nutritionist Dr. Royal Lee, from the earliest days of his childhood through the time the story was published, about a decade before his death. From Herald of Health, 1959. Reprinted by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research.

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


Royal Lee—The Man

His Interest in the Natural Health Way Never Has Dimmed

In the march of time, there occasionally comes across the stage in the drama of life an individual whose contributions to mankind are such that it may be truly said, “The world is a better place because of him.”

Of that caliber is Royal Lee, DDS, founder and president of Lee Engineering Company and Vitamin Products Company, Milwaukee, and the Franklin Corporation, Elm Grove, Wisconsin.

Of sturdy Scandinavian stock, Royal Lee was endowed with an inquiring mind, the capacity and stamina to learn, and the willingness to share his discoveries with his fellow man.

What part fate may have played in shaping the career of this brilliant, fearless, inventive genius is not possible to determine. It is possible that had he not been called into World War I, he would have remained the proprietor of a small-town garage in southern Wisconsin.

But we’re getting ahead of the story.

On April 7, [1959], Dr. Lee turned sixty-four years old. He was raised on a farm near Dodgeville, Wisconsin (famous as a lead mining town since the War of 1812 and deriving its name from the first territorial chief executive of Wisconsin, Governor Dodge), the Lee family having emigrated to the United States in 1845 from Norway.

Royal attended elementary and high schools in his hometown. His interest in science expressed itself early. At age twelve he had compiled a notebook on biochemistry and nutrition by copying definitions on the subjects from the school dictionary. And he had started collecting books on those subjects—a hobby that has continued over the years and has resulted in perhaps the largest individual collection in the world.

Ahead of him in school were two older sisters. Their physics books were his “meat,” and by the time he had reached the class in high school in which he could study physics, he was ready for an advanced course. His mechanically bent mind grasped technical data swiftly, and he was able to persuade the principal to organize a class in advanced physics. There were fifteen students. Royal Lee was the teacher. The principal predicted the class wouldn’t get halfway through the book on electrical science. But they finished the book—and passed the examination without strain.

[Photo of Dr. Lee speaking to a man, with caption:] Dr. Lee (left) drives a point home while chatting with a friend during the Ohio National Health Federation Convention last autumn. (See original for image.)

After getting his high school diploma, he took over a garage in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and apparently was headed for a career in that field when Uncle Sam’s long finger beckoned, and he entered the Army, serving from 1918 to January 1919. He was married while in service to Miss Evelyn Egan, and after forty years the players on that team remain unchanged. After being mustered out, he got a job at the base hospital at Camp Grant teaching automobile mechanics in the occupational therapy department. When the hospital was closed, he was ready for something more than running a garage.

He enrolled at Marquette University Dental School at [age] twenty-four and was graduated in 1924. His purpose, however, was not to become a practicing dentist but rather to build dental equipment. (It was at this stage of his development, perhaps, that his rebellious instinct against dictation first found expression.)

“Dentists pay at least five times as much for equipment as they should,” he declares, and he was going to try to change that situation. While a student, he was already manufacturing some dental electrical equipment. He contends he could have saved Chicago University half a million dollars, but he was not prepared to “buy” business. “Sears tried to break the [dental] trust once by offering dentists a mail-order service,” he recalls, “but they couldn’t either.”

But perhaps it was foreordained that his talents were not to be confined to building dental equipment. His education in dentistry plus his innate interest in the physiology of Homo sapiens led him into research and discoveries resulting in unlimited benefit to all who will listen.

The Speed Governor

One of his most important inventions was the speed governor, used in motors, [particularly] in all war instruments in which close time intervals must be established or constant speeds must be obtained. 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 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 $32.50 each!

The famed Norden bombsight used the Lee governor to measure the time intervals of bomb dropping. And Sperry Gyroscope Company used it in the instrument credited with saving the U.S. Navy in World War II, i.e., the device used on guns on battleships that quickly calculates the angle by which the guns must “lead” in order to hit a fast-moving target such as an airplane. In the early stage of the last war, the Japanese sunk several British and American battlewagons and probably would have sent the rest to the bottom had it not been for this device. [When it was] first used on the USS South Dakota, October 26, 1942, thirty-two enemy planes were shot down in her first major engagement. Subsequently, all vessels were equipped with it.

The speed governor’s earlier uses, or variations thereof, were in telephone equipment and motion picture sound equipment. (When “talking” pictures came out in 1926–27, Bell Telephone Lab had one selling for $1,200. Lee sold his to them for $3.50 and retains the account to this day.)

In reproducing sound there must be consistency of speed, or musical instruments 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 since the advent of the talking machine and television. Even in the kitchen, no self-respecting food mixer is without a Lee governor. It’s also used in most adding machines and calculating machines. The latest field to be invaded is the machine tool field, for which new and larger governors have been developed.

Three different plants manufacture devices that have come from the fertile brain of Dr. Royal Lee. Some years ago, Eastman Kodak asked Lee Engineering Company to build a motor that would spin 30,000 rpm, for testing purposes. “With that order we got to producing custom-made motors,” he recalls. “We told them that if we could get bearings, we’d make the motor. In another request, for a motor to be used on fighter planes requiring lighter camera equipment, we designed a motor [with] the weight [reduced] from 8.5 to 3.5 pounds yet delivering more than twice the power. After the war this motor found its place on our Household Flour Mill.”

The Lee organization holds patents on nearly 100 improvements for electrical and speed controls for motors. In the early twenties, Dr. Lee filed a patent application on a hydraulic valve compensator, “but automobile manufacturers wouldn’t buy it,” he smiles. Today, however, it’s standard equipment.

[Photo of Lee Engineering flour mills, with caption:] These stone-type mills for grinding various products are another of the machines turned out by Lee Engineering Company in Milwaukee. (See original for image.)

Too Expensive, Said the Brass

Among other ideas that didn’t find acceptance by the brass was Dr. Lee’s formula for landing shells “anywhere, including the moon, by utilizing hydrogen.” (He then was Pvt. Royal Lee, Company A, 311th Supply Train, Chicago.) 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 file is a letter signed by Lt. Col. R.A. Millikan of the Science and Research Department, AS, AP, affirming:

“1. 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.

“2. 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.”

Although Dr. Lee says he still is ready, upon call, to set up equipment in Texas to demonstrate his theory, “I was glad to file it away because I’m not anxious to show the world how to commit suicide.

“At that time I demonstrated that hydrogen gas, properly used, was so efficient as an explosive that it could be used, with proper chemical mixtures, to shoot bullets at the normal velocity but without any noise whatever,” he continued. “This of course would be a poor discovery to release to the general public, and I know of no military value to it. The fact remains, however, that I did make cartridges in 1917 that you could take rabbit-hunting and shoot rabbits without any report from the gun.”

Still another use of the Lee motor control is in steel-cutting apparatus using oxygen as the cutting agent. The welding and cutting industry uses this instrument, and it enabled Henry Kaiser to break shipbuilding records, his pantograph cutting machines slicing steel plates as if they were butter.

While this area of activity has occupied a percentage of Dr. Lee’s time, he doesn’t boast about these accomplishments. “I consider our research on natural vitamins far more important to myself and other people than any of these engineering discoveries that can only be misused for war purposes,” he declares. “There is actually more research in one vitamin tablet than there is in the whole gunsight that saved the Navy.”

Lifetime Interest in Nutrition

Dr. Lee’s deep interest in biochemistry and nutrition—dating back to boyhood, as evidenced by a treatise written at the ripe age of sixteen—found expression in the form of a paper delivered to the senior class at Marquette Dental School in December 1923. Titled “The Systemic Causes of Dental Caries,” the paper is a scholarly summation in support of the thesis that malnutrition is the basis of tooth decay and disease in general.

The paper quotes authorities whose research showed that “dental caries is due to a vitamin deficient diet, starving the endocrines, which then are unable to secrete sufficient of the germicidal ferments to prevent dental caries or other infectious disease. And the presence of a systemic infection sets up a vicious circle, as the hyperactivity of the endocrines in fighting the disease makes the vitamin starvation more acute, such starvation being the original cause of susceptibility to the infection.

“It must be remembered that the metabolism of the human body, being an animal function, is a breaking down process of complex compounds that are built up by the synthetic processes of plant metabolism. The animal or human body cannot build up organic compounds and is wholly dependent on the vegetable kingdom for organic foods. Vitamins are a class of organic compounds, probably the most complex of food constituents…All the ductless glands (thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, pineal body, pituitary, adrenals, gonads, pancreas, islands of Langerhans, spleen) must have one or more of the three classes of vitamins in order to secrete their vital fluids and if deprived of the vitamins will atrophy and cease to function. Such cessation of function produces the following results:

“1. Lessened resistance to infectious diseases, including dental caries…

“2. Disturbances in metabolism, such as diabetes, rickets…

“3. Lessening or cessation of endocrine function, which is disturbance to organic function, including mental activity…”

The Search Starts

Satisfied that malnutrition is to disease what correct nutrition is to health, Dr. Lee set about unlocking the secrets of how to prepare compounds containing the known vitamins and minerals from natural sources. The brain that conceived the speed governor and the explosive power of hydrogen met the challenge in the far-removed field of nutrition. In 1929 he had a concentrate ready for the market. It was distributed among dentist friends, who discovered that its use among patients helped prevent colds and was helpful in heart cases.

“We found that heart disease had the same background as dental disease—malnutrition—and then we started contacting physicians as well as dentists with our product,” Dr. Lee recalls.

This signaled the birth of Vitamin Products Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with offices now in Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Fresno, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Orlando, Florida.

It took Vitamin Products Company until 1956 to catch up with the annual sales volume of Lee Engineering and Manufacturing Company, President Lee reports. And although he probably could have made more money concentrating on electrical engineering, “you hate to turn down doctors asking for products to save life, and spend your time instead inventing gadgets that have nothing to do with life,” says this unassuming gentleman from Wisconsin.

Among pioneers in the field of biochemistry who have had profound influence on the intellectual course of Dr. Lee’s career was Dr. Sajous of Johns Hopkins University, who discovered vitamin C in 1933 and established that it is copper in organic form.

“Our philosophy,” Dr. Lee says, “is to learn how to isolate specific fractions of foods that will correct specific deficiencies. It is not feasible to make one-a-day vitamins for prevention of disease because we should get that from eating natural foods.”

[Photo of machinery at Vitamin Products production facility, with caption:] These special stills at Vitamin Products Company are used to concentrate fat-soluble vitamins. (See original for image.) [Photo of farm, with caption:] From this field and many others like it comes the green leaf used by Vitamin Products Company in manufacture of certain of its products. (See original for image.)

Remove the Cause

Lee products are available only through professional avenues. “We feel if the patient doesn’t get the proper [determination of the] deficiency pattern, it’s a waste of money to buy vitamins without actually knowing the need. We remove the cause.”

An important tool in the Lee kit is the Endocardiograph, adapted by Lee to amplify and record heart sounds. 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.

With heart disease a leading cause of death in United States, whereas in China and India the disease is “practically nonexistent,” Dr. Lee is hard-pressed to disguise his impatience. “It is as much a disgrace as it would be to have a million people a year dying of scurvy,” he expostulates. “And all because of refined foods!”

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

1. Education of the public to try to correct “this sad situation.”

2. Research to find remedies to correct malnutrition-caused disease.

A True Crusader

The Lee Foundation is the largest of its kind and through the nearly two decades of its existence has disseminated millions of pieces of literature and hundreds of thousands of books. It makes available, at a savings, what are considered the most authoritative of the volumes, as published, pertaining to this sphere of interest—health and nutrition.

Dr. Lee is not the kind of person who pays lip service to an ideal. He has backed his conviction with dollars—all the assets, in fact, of the exceptionally successful Vitamin Products Company. These resources, including valuable patents, have been assigned to the Lee Foundation to assure its perpetuation.

[Photo of equipment, with caption:] This pictures the special high-vacuum drier for veal bone used in the Vitamin Products Company factory. It permits drying without excess heat and sterilization without heat. This equipment is an exclusive development by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research. (See original for image.)

A familiar figure in the field of “natural health,” Dr. Lee has provided moral and financial support to organizations such as Natural Food Associates, American Academy of Applied Nutrition, National Health Federation, and various health publications championing freedom of choice and “the natural way.” He is a contributor to many of these publications, including Herald of Health, and his pamphlets and tracts are available through the Lee Foundation. His endeavors include coauthorship, with William Hanson, of Protomorphology: The Principles of Cell Auto-Regulation, a study of biological growth factors and a survey of the problems of aging.

Dr. Lee is a stalwart disciple of the principle of free enterprise and individual liberty and of application of the Golden Rule, not only in relationships between individuals but also between nations. He asks for “economic freedom and commercial intercourse among nations while strictly minding our own business politically, permitting each nation to adopt and operate whatever form of government they choose. That course of action is nothing more than applying the Golden Rule—the only possible way of getting along with associates, whether people or nations.”

By Don C. Matchan. Reprinted by the Herald of Health, May 1959, by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research. 

Note: Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research is a nonprofit, public-service institution, chartered to investigate and disseminate nutritional information. The attached publication is not literature or labeling for any product, nor shall it be employed as such by anyone. In accordance with the right of freedom of the press guaranteed to the Foundation by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the attached publication is issued and distributed for informational purposes.

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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