WILLIS GAYLORD TUCKER
FORTY-ONE years ago an Albanian, who has already-gained an enviable reputation in the medical, scientific and educational world, first saw the light of day. Willis G. Tucker, the subject of this sketch, was born in Albany on the 31st day of October, 1849. His father, the late Luther Tucker, possessed talents of a high order, and his work as a writer and publisher, especially in the direction of agricultural science, has long been highly appreciated by the public. This noble pioneer in periodical literature established in 1826 the Rochester Daily Advertiser, the first daily newspaper published west of Albany, still continued under the name of the Rochester Union and Advertiser, a leading and successful journal. Fully impressed with the lack among American farmers of suitable agricultural information, Mr. Tucker established in the beginning of the year 1831, the Genesee Farmer, which soon won its way into general recognition by leading agriculturists throughout the land, and having purchased a farm near Rochester he took especial pride in its cultivation in connection with the management of his new publication. Removing to Albany in 1840 he combined the Cultivator of Albany with his journal, and issued the same as The Cultivator; a consolidation of the Cultivator and the Genesee Farmer. In 1853 he established The Country Cultivator, a weekly, with which, in 1866, The Cultivator was combined, and this popular journal is still published by two of Mr. Tucker’s sons. Much useful, practical knowledge was disseminated in these agricultural papers, tending to further the successful cultivation of the soil, to lessen the labor of the husbandman and aiming to show the means best adapted for obtaining the most profitable results by the tillers of the land. It was a labor of love for Mr. Tucker to write in the interests of husbandry, and the suggestions which he made and the improvements which he introduced came to be generally adopted by those for whom he wrote, and especially by the more intelligent and scientific agriculturists.
Well does the writer of this sketch remember with what avidity the old Genesee Farmer and Cultivator was received and read at the old-time firesides, and how the name of Luther Tucker came to be a household word in numerous families, who regarded his paper as almost indispensable in their households.
From his childhood Willis G. Tucker evinced a fondness for the natural sciences, and he was early instructed in their elementary principles, and made many youthful experiments in this direction. His habit of thought and natural inclinations early indicated that he might eventually devote himself to scientific pursuits, and at the Albany academy, where eight years were spent, he came under the instruction of teachers whose influence was in every way most beneficial. Under the guidance of the late Dr. Jacob S. Mosher he devoted himself assiduously to the study of chemistry, and graduating from the academy in 1866, he became Dr. Mosher’s assistant in the laboratory of the medical college, which position he had occupied for some time before leaving the academy. A year later he entered the office of the late Prof. James H. Armsby and began the study of medicine, but he still continued to devote much of his time to the study of chemistry and other branches of natural science. From the medical college he was graduated in 1870, but never actively engaged in the practice of medicine; and during the succeeding year he was appointed assistant professor of chemistry in the medical college, and in 1874, lecturer on materia medica as well. On the reorganization of the faculty in 1876 he was made professor of inorganic and analytical chemistry, and in 1887 the department of toxicology was also assigned to him. During these years he has conducted the laboratory classes in practical chemistry in connection with the lectures given; and as a teacher has been most successful in kindling new ardor and love for science and the method of scientific inquiry in the pupils who have come under his instruction.
In this capacity his relations with the college are still continued with an increasing reputation and a wide-spread usefulness. But Dr. Tucker’s work as an instructor has not been confined to the Albany Medical College alone. Since 1874 he has been lecturer on chemistry at St. Agnes’ school, and at different times he has been professor of chemistry at the Albany academy, the Albany Female academy, and from 1876 to 1887, at the Albany High school. Largely through his instrumentality, in 1881, was founded the Albany College of Pharmacy, created by the board of governors, as a department of Union university. From the outset he has been professor of chemistry in this new school, and for several years was its secretary and is now the president of its faculty. From a small beginning he has seen this school grow into one of the most successful of its kind in the land. The times require and the law demands a greater degree of scientific knowledge on the part of the pharmacist than was formerly deemed necessary, and this knowledge it is the aim of colleges of pharmacy to impart. Though established only nine years ago, the Albany College of Pharmacy has received the hearty support of pharmacists throughout the state, and met with a success greater even than its originators had anticipated.
The state board of health was created in 1880, and the following year Dr. Tucker was appointed one of the public analysts to the board, a position which he has continued to hold to the present time. During these years he has investigated and reported upon many of the public water supplies of the state, examined hundreds of samples of drugs, and made special study of matters pertaining to sanitary science, especially in the direction of food and drug adulteration. For many years he has given much attention to water analysis, and from the outset opposed the plan, afterward adopted, of taking the city supply from the Hudson River. A few years since he analyzed for the city board of health the waters of the public wells, and recommended that the greater part of them be closed. As an expert in medico-legal cases, his services as a toxicologist have frequently been rendered in court and in many cases his testimony has been of much service to the people.
In 1882 Dr. Tucker was chosen registrar of the Albany Medical College, as the successor of the late Dr. Jacob S. Mosher, and he was one of the originators of its alumni association, and since its organization in 1874, has been its secretary. He is a member of various scientific societies throughout the country and is a fellow of the Chemical society of London.
As a writer, Dr. Tucker has been a frequent contributor to scientific journals, particularly on his favorite chemical subjects. His style is plain, forcible and concise, and his statements are founded on the true principles of a demonstrable science. For several years he was one of the editors of the Albany Medical Annals, and contributed to its pages many an original article of his own.
He is a great lover of books and has collected a large library in which most of the great masters in literature are represented, as well as a working library well stocked with the latest authorities and works of reference in science.
The honorary degree of Ph. G. was conferred on him by the Albany College of Pharmacy in 1882, and the same year he received from Union college the degree of Ph. D.
In his personal appearance Dr. Tucker is about the medium height, slender in form, with a wiry constitution, and a strong sympathetic nature. Scarcely yet in the prime of life, are many years of labor spread out before him – years which in all probability will crown a successful career in the cause of medical and sanitary science.