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To Market: Universal Laboratories Building

Location: 901 First St. N., Dassel, Meeker County
Built: 1937
Contractor: H. E. Swanson
Listed on NRHP: March 01, 1996

The Universal Laboratories Building was built by Lester R. Peel of Rice Laboratories Inc. to produce yeast as an additive for poultry and hog feed. At the same time, Peel began to collect rye that had been infected with ergot, a toxic fungus used medicinally since the 16th century. Peel hoped to use his new facility to harvest the ergot, which had previously been imported from Europe by U.S. pharmaceutical firms.

During World War II, the drugs derived from ergot – one suppressed internal bleeding and another proved effective in treating “bomb shock” – were in high demand. Universal Laboratories cornered the domestic market, becoming the only U.S. ergot supplier to Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis, a major producer of ergot-derived drugs. Although both ergot and Universal Laboratories eventually fell victim to low prices and a limited market, the building remains as a monument to the introduction of a new domestic industry made possible by the railroads and the grain trade. Today the building is being restored by the city of Dassel and the Dassel Area Historical Society for use as a community center that tells the ergot story.




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Click to go to larger photo of Universal Laboratories Building.
Click to go to larger photo of Universal Laboratories Building.
Click to go to larger photo of ergot fungus.
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