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Frederick W. Knipe

by Krista Weidner

Frederick W. KnipeFrederick W. Knipe (’17 agronomy) was not afraid of hard work. He drained waterlogged fields with picks and shovels, and he gouged out ditches with dynamite—all with the goal of removing the breeding grounds of mosquitoes.

A key figure in the college’s long history of malaria research, Knipe, who graduated from Penn State in 1917 with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy, worked as a malaria-control engineer for the Rockefeller Foundation during the 1920s. The foundation—known for its commitment to meeting social, economic, health, and environmental challenges—assigned him to the Balkans, where he was tasked with helping to identify and eradicate mosquito breeding grounds.

In the Balkan countries, including Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece, Knipe drained vast fields of stagnant water, which involved using dynamite to build levees, ditches, and canals. “It was tedious work, all done by hand with picks and shovels,” says Fred’s son Fritz Knipe. “After the dynamite blast, hand laborers cleaned up the passageways for drainage. Dad had workers construct a system of dams and floodgates to manage water flow.”

After Knipe’s work in the Balkans ended in the early 1930s, he was assigned to India to continue his work on malaria control. On the flatlands in the village of Pattukkottai, he once again focused on draining swamps and constructing canals. He also developed new spray equipment that could be used to kill both adult mosquitoes in homes and larvae in bodies of water. Knipe was known for his invention of more efficient spray nozzles for applying insecticides such as DDT and pyrethrum.

Knipe in Cyprus, 1949Fritz remembers his family’s time in India. “Because the plains of Pattukkottai where Dad was working were extremely hot, most of the time my mother, my brother Dan, and I stayed in the cooler hills nearby. We lived in the beautiful hill station called Kodaikannal. I remember when we would visit Dad on the plains, the temperature was rarely under 100 degrees. Our home in Pattukkottai was very primitive, with sod walls and three or four coconut palms growing right through the house!”

During the 1940s, when malaria became a concern for U.S. troops, Knipe assisted with malaria-control efforts at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida and, later, in Sardinia, Italy, where he set up a malaria abatement headquarters. “The incidence of malaria among U.S. troops and others in Italy was a serious problem during World War II,” says Fritz. “My dad gained recognition from the Italian government for his work in vastly reducing the incidence of malaria in that country.”

After the war, Knipe was reassigned to India and was instrumental in setting up the Malaria Institute of India. He also served on the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Insecticides from 1948 until 1955. After that he returned to Penn State, where for several years he conducted research on the eradication of cockroaches and flies for the agronomy department.

Knipe died in 1983, at the age of 88, after an illustrious career in malaria control. His four sons—Dan, Fritz, Robert, and James—all live in California. “We’re proud of the work my dad did,” says Fritz. “He would be very pleased to know that malaria research continues in the college today.”

Photos courtesy of the Knipe family