Redcliffe N. Salaman

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Redcliffe N. Salaman
Redcliffe Nathan Salaman

(1874-09-12)12 September 1874
Kensington, London, England, United Kingdom
Died12 June 1955(1955-06-12) (aged 80)
United Kingdom
EducationSt Paul's School
Alma materTrinity Hall, Cambridge
(m. 1901; died 1925)

Gertrude Lowy
(m. 1926)
Children6, including Raphael Salaman (son) and Esther Salaman (daughter)

Redcliffe Nathan Salaman (12 September 1874 – 12 June 1955) was a British botanist and potato breeder.[1] His landmark work was the 1949 book on the History and Social influence of the Potato, a book that established the history of nutrients as a new literary genre.[2]


Bust of Salaman's mother Sarah

Salaman was born in Kensington, London and was the ninth of fifteen children born to his parents Sarah Solomon and Myer Salaman who was a wealthy merchant who traded in ostrich feathers at the height of the plume trade.[2][3]

The Salaman family were Ashkenazi Jews,[4] who according to Salaman, migrated to Britain from either Holland or the Rhineland in the early 18th century.[5]


Salaman was educated at St Paul's School, London initially studying classics but due to the dull teaching methods he switched to studying science and later became head boy of the Science Side of the school. He obtained a scholarship at Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1893 and graduated with a first class degree in Natural Sciences in 1896 having studied physiology, zoology and chemistry. He was tutored and advised by the physiologist W. H. Gaskell who later became a good friend of Salaman. He moved to the London Hospital in 1896 to study medicine and remained there until he qualified in 1900.[1]


In 1903, Salaman was appointed Director of the Pathological Institute at the London Hospital but in 1904 he developed tuberculosis and had to stop practising medicine and spend six months in a Swiss sanitorium.[3][6] It took him over two years to fully recover from the illness, changing the course of his entire life. He purchased a house in Barley, Hertfordshire and because he could not return to practising medicine began experimenting in the emerging science of genetics under the guidance of his friend William Bateson.[1][6] After several failed experiments with a range of animals, Salaman decided to experiment with potatoes after seeking advice from his gardener. Later in his career, commenting on his decision to study potatoes Salaman noted that he had "embarked on an enterprise which, after forty years, leaves more questions unsolved than were thought at that time to exist. Whether it was mere luck, or whether the potato and I were destined for life partnership, I do not know, but from that moment my course was set, and I became ever more involved in problems associated directly or indirectly with a plant with which I had no particular affinity, gustatory or romantic".[6]

Working in his private garden, he initially set out to cross two potato varieties and establish which traits were dominant and recessive in a similar manner to Gregor Mendel's work on peas, but he soon broadened into other areas. In 1908, he decided to include wild potatoes in his experiments and requested that Kew Gardens provide him with Solanum maglia. Kew's stocks had been incorrectly labelled however and Salaman was sent Solanum edinense instead. In 1909, Salaman grew 40 self-fertilised crosses of S. edinense and found that seven of them did not succumb to late blight (Phytophthora infestans). Convinced that resistance to late blight existed in wild species he began to study other species and found that Solanum demissum was also resistant to blight. Salaman started to cross S. demissum with domesticated varieties of potato in 1911 to produce high yielding lines that were also resistant to late blight. By 1914, he had successfully created hybrids and in 1926 he remarked that he had produced varieties with "reasonably good economic characteristics which, no matter what their maturity, appeared to be immune to late blight.[6] Salaman was the first to identify genetic resistance to late blight and S. demissum was still used as a source of resistance in the 1950s.[1] In The Propitious Esculent, John Reader called Salaman's discovery "an important breakthrough, offering real promise ... that it was possible to breed blight-resistant potato varieties".[6] In 1987, it was thought that half of the potato varieties cultivated in Europe contained genes from S. demissum.[7]

In 1910, he published a paper the inheritance of colour in potato in the first issue of the Journal of Genetics.[8] Later papers in the Journal of Agricultural Science examined male sterility,[9] methods for estimating yields[10] and detecting viruses in seed potatoes[11] and a study of how the size of seed tubers affected the yield and size of tubers of the crop.[10][12] He wrote the book Potato Varieties in 1929.[2]

His research on potatoes was disrupted by the outbreak of the First World War during which Salaman joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served in Palestine. Afterwards he was appointed chairman of the potato synonym committee at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany where he was tasked with describing potato varieties and putting an end to the common practice of marketing old and unreliable varieties under new names. His work there culminated in the publication of Potato Varieties in 1926. The same year he persuaded the Ministry of Agriculture to establish the Potato Virus Research Institute in Cambridge of which he remained a director until 1939.[3] Kenneth Manley Smith was an entomologist at the institute and Frederick Charles Bawden became Salaman's assistant in 1930. Smith and Bawden went on to become renowned plant virologists.[13] In conjunction with Paul A. Murphy of Dublin a large stock of virus-free potatoes was built up and multiplied in greenhouses, a practice which continued after his death and was adopted in other countries.[1] His research on viruses lead to him being elected to the Royal Society in 1935.[3]

Salaman supervised the PhD thesis of Jack Hawkes, who went on to become an authority in the taxonomy of wild potato species and identified sources of resistance to potato cyst nematodes.[14]

The History and Social Influence of the Potato[edit]

Salaman authored The History and Social Influence of the Potato first published in 1949, reprinted in 1970[15] and revised under the guidance of Jack Hawkes in 1987.[7] A review of the first edition in the British Journal of Sociology noted that it was an "unusual and vastly interesting book which took nine years to write, and a life-time to prepare" combining genetics, history and archaeology.[16] The book covers every aspect of the history of the potato with a particular focus on Ireland about which he wrote "in no other country can [potato's] influence on the domestic and economic life of the people be studied to greater advantage".[15][17]

The historian Eric Hobsbawm referred to the work as "that magnificent monument of scholarship and humanity".[18] A 1999 paper in Potato Research noted that because of Salaman's "unprecedented" book, we "know more about the impact of the diffusion of potato on the welfare of people, particularly the poor, than about such consequences following the introduction of any other major food plant."[19]


Salaman combined active Zionism with research into the genetics and social history of the potato, which led him to an interest in eugenics and racial explanations for Arab "failure". In 1919, he was uncomfortably conscious that clearing Palestine of Arabs would be "simply ridiculous and comparable to Cromwell's effort in Ireland", and the chief moral he drew from the Holocaust was the peril of attributing misfortune to racial characteristics rather than political oppression.[20]

Personal life[edit]

On 23 October 1901, Salaman married first to Hebrew scholar Nina Ruth Davis, whom he had met four months earlier at the New West End Synagogue. They were engaged ten days after meeting. After living in Berlin for several months, while Redcliffe completed advanced training in pathology, they returned to London, where he assumed the directorship of the Pathological Institute at the London Hospital.[21] They had six children including a cancer researcher, a doctor, the engineer Raphael Salaman, the artist Ruth Collet[22] and the singer Esther Salaman.[23] They settled in the country, in the village of Barley in Hertfordshire where they lived with their six children (one of whom died in childhood). Nina Salaman continued to pursue her interest in medieval Hebrew poetry. Despite Barley's distance from London, she maintained a kosher home and Sabbath observance. For the festivals, the family traveled to London, where they stayed with one of Redcliffe's siblings and worshipped at the New West End Synagogue. She took personal responsibility for the Hebrew education of her children until they left for boarding school.[21]

Salaman's paternal granddaughter is Chair of Jewish Voice for Labour Jenny Manson.[24]

In 1925, Salaman's first wife Nina died. In 1926, he met and married Gertrude Lowy who survived him.[1]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Daniel Dornhofer: Palestine reclaimed. Rassekunde und Zionismus unter dem Eindruck des Ersten Weltkriegs, in transversal. Zeitschrift für jüdische Studien. № 2, Year 14, University of Graz 2013, ISSN 1607-629X pp. 59 – 75 (in German)


  1. ^ a b c d e f Smith, K. M. (1955). "Redcliffe Nathan Salaman. 1874-1955". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 1: 238–245. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1955.0017.
  2. ^ a b c Niemann, Hans-Joachim (2014). Karl Popper and the Two New Secrets of Life. Mohr Siebeck. p. 39. ISBN 978-3161532078.
  3. ^ a b c d Paolo Palladino. "Salaman, Redcliffe Nathan (1874–1955), geneticist and Jewish activist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014.
  4. ^ Morrison, Blake (11 October 2013). "Generation gap". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  5. ^ Stein, Sarah Abrevaya (2010). Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce. Yale University Press. p. 180. ISBN 978-0300168181.
  6. ^ a b c d e John Reader (2009). The Untold History of the Potato. Vintage. pp. 221–225. ISBN 978-0-09-947479-1.
  7. ^ a b Nee, M.; Salaman, R. N.; Hawkes, J. G. (1987). "The History and Social Influence of the Potato". Brittonia. 39: 48. doi:10.2307/2806972. JSTOR 2806972.
  8. ^ Salaman, R. N. (1910). "The inheritance of colour and other characters in the potato" (PDF). Journal of Genetics. 1: 7. doi:10.1007/BF02981567.
  9. ^ Salaman, R. N.; Lesley, J. W. (1923). "Genetic studies in potatoes; sterility". Journal of Agricultural Science. 12: 31. doi:10.1017/S0021859600004512.
  10. ^ a b Salaman, R. N. (1923). "The determination of the best method for estimating potato yields, together with a further note on the influence of size of seed on the character and yield of the potato. III". Journal of Agricultural Science. 13 (4): 361. doi:10.1017/S0021859600003816.
  11. ^ Salaman, R. N. (1927). "A note on the production of premature sprouting in the potato, and its application to the study of virus diseases". Journal of Agricultural Science. 17 (4): 524. doi:10.1017/S0021859600018803.
  12. ^ Salaman, R. N. (1922). "The Influence of size and character of seed on the yield of potatoes". Journal of Agricultural Science. 12 (2): 182. doi:10.1017/S0021859600004901.
  13. ^ Geoffrey Clough Ainsworth (1981). Introduction to the History of Plant Pathology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 978-0-521-23032-2.
  14. ^ Richard N. Lester (2005). "Book Review - Hunting the Wild Potato in the South American Andes: Memories of the British Empire Potato Collecting Expedition to South America 1938–1939". Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. 52: 483–488. doi:10.1007/s10722-005-8253-3.
  15. ^ a b P. M. Austin Bourke (1971). "Review: The History and Social Influence of the Potato by Redcliffe N. Salaman". Irish Historical Studies. 17: 410–413. JSTOR 30005769.
  16. ^ Beales, H. L.; Salaman, R. N. (1950). "The History and Social Influence of the Potato". The British Journal of Sociology. 1 (2): 172. doi:10.2307/587558. JSTOR 587558.
  17. ^ John McKenna (6 December 2011). "Have we forgotten our roots?". The Irish Times.
  18. ^ Redcliffe N. Salaman (21 November 1985). The History and Social Influence of the Potato. Cambridge University Press. p. 688. ISBN 978-0-521-31623-1.
  19. ^ Walker, T. S.; Schmiediche, P. E.; Hijmans, R. J. (1999). "World trends and patterns in the potato crop: An economic and geographic survey". Potato Research. 42 (2): 241. doi:10.1007/BF02357856.
  20. ^ FitzHerbert, Claudia (21 October 2003). "Plundering the past with the verve of an angry child". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  21. ^ a b Endelman, Todd M. "Nina Ruth Davis Salaman". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  22. ^ Marion Glastonbury (28 June 2001). "Obituary – Ruth Collet". The Independent.
  23. ^ Miller, Jane (26 October 2005). "Obituary: Esther Salaman". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  24. ^ Doherty, Rosa (19 June 2018). "Meet Jeremy Corbyn's devoted Jewish defender: Jenny Manson". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 1 July 2018.

External links[edit]

Redcliffe Nathan Salaman (1874-1955) and the first potato plant with "genuine resistance" to late blight; Israel Chemist and Chemical Engineer, issue 5, Nov. 2019