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February 15, 2024 10 mins

Two scientifically-minded people are featured on today's tour through the Cabinet.

Pre-order the official Cabinet of Curiosities book by clicking here today, and get ready to enjoy some curious reading this November!

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

If you walked outside and spent a few minutes digging
through the grass, chances are you would find a beetle.
Beetles are defined as insects with hardened front wings which
protect a second set of softer wings. They come in
all kinds of shapes and sizes too. The biggest can
be larger than a grown man's hand, while the tiniest
can be as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen.

And here's a fact that will really make your heads.
If you counted up all the animal species on Earth,
one fourth of them would be beetles, which seems impossible,
I know, But the sheer amount of beetle biodiversity means
there are well over three hundred and fifty thousand documented species.
Some fly, some don't. Some are shaped like ladybugs, others

like violins. Some live on land, some in water, a
few make their homes inside mushrooms. Beetles can be bright blue,
jet black, neon green, and nearly every other color in between. Really,
when you get down to it, there's nothing that beatles
can't do. So it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn
that there's an entire branch of science dedicated to studying

these curious creatures. It's called Coleepterology, which comes from the
word colyeptera, the scientific name for beetles. There is even
an international organization of beatle fanatics called the Coleopteris Society.
It's made up of professionals and amateurs, brought together by
their love of this hardshelled insect. Speaking of amateurs, one
of them most important figures in the history of coleopterology

wasn't a scientist at all. He was an investment banker,
a philanthropist, and one of the wealthiest men who ever lived.
Enter David Rockefeller, the youngest son of John D. Rockefeller Junior.
David grew up fabulously wealthy. His childhood spanned the Roaring twenties,
and his New York home was certainly the setting for
many parties and negotiations, but At the time, David wasn't

yet old enough to have a head for business. In
nineteen twenty five, ten year old David was just beginning
his education, taking lessons with a summer tutor. This teacher
introduced him to a few different kinds of beatles, and
I truly don't think that they could have imagined the
kind of obsession that this lesson would spark. Young David
began collecting beatles, and this was far more than a

childhood hobby. He did lots of research to learn about
the different species and kept his specimens carefully arranged in
display cases. Over the next eight years, he amassed an
impressive catalog. By this point, David was eighteen years old
and with a last name like Rockefeller, he had some
seriously big shoes to fill. He moved from New York

to Massachusetts, where he studied economics at Harvard University. He
went on to earn a PhD from the University of
Chicago in nineteen forty. After a stint in the military
during World War II, he started working as a member
of the executive staff at Chase National Bank. It probably
helped that his uncle was chairman of the board. David

quickly rose through the ranks, becoming senior vice president in
nineteen fifty two and taking over his uncle's position as
chairman in nineteen sixty nine. He also served as CEO
from sixty nine to nineteen eighty, making him one of
the most influential bankers in the world. But outside of
his day to day grind as a high powered executive,
David had a secret passion his undying love for beatles.

You see, David had never stopped collecting the little bugs.
When he was a student at Harvard, he spent his
free time combing Massachusetts for specimens. When he came home
from serving in World War II, his bags were full
of beatles. Even as the CEO of Chase National Bank,
he planned his vacations around these little critters, traveling to
locations where he knew he could find exotic species. When

David passed away in twenty seventeen at the age of
one hundred and one, he left behind thirty massive cabinets
filled with over one hundred and fifty thousand beetle specimens.
His relatives were understandably overwhelmed with this bounty, so they
called up Harvard University, David's alma mater, and offered to
make a donation. Today, David Rockefeller's beatle collection is on

display at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. Brian Farrell, the
museum's director of Entomology, has expressed admiration for David's extensive catalog.
In Farrell's words, collecting is a result of quote passionate curiosity,
something David always had in high supply. Every autumn, our

doctors remind us to get our flu shots, and according
to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
at least half of the US population chooses not to.
Nobody likes being stuck with a needle, but still, in
an age when vaccines are readily available, it's easy to
forget how much they change the world. Vaccines are one
of the greatest marvels of modern medicine. Take the flu shot,

for example. It first became available to the public in
nineteen forty five. Every year since then it has prevented
thousands of debts and kept millions of people from getting sick.
Other diseases like polio, have been completely eradicated through the
use of vaccines. Throughout history, Countless doctors and researchers have
worked to develop safe and effective shots. But there's one

immunologist who stand out from the crowd, doctor Maurice Hilleman.
Maurice was born in Montana in nineteen nineteen, but his
early years were marked by tragedy. Just two days after
he was born, his mother died, leaving his father alone
to raise eight kids. With little money and less time
to spare, Maurice's father sent him to live with one

of his uncles. Marie spent his days at school and
his evenings working on his uncle's farm. He was a
promising student too, especially when it came to science, but
he didn't have many prospects when he graduated high school.
It was nineteen thirty seven, the middle of the Great Depression,
and he didn't have the money to go to college.
He worked odd jobs here and there until he heard

about one that his older brothers was doing. Maurice's brother
had enrolled in Divinity School on a scholarship. When he
realized he might be able to go to college for free,
Maurice applied to Montana State University. He ended up getting
a full scholarship to study chemistry and microbiology. After he graduated,
he received a fellowship to attend the UNI University of Chicago.

As a PhD student. In Chicago, Maurice studied infectious diseases.
He received his doctorates in microbiology in nineteen forty four,
when he was just twenty five years old. A long
way from the farm boy he once was, Maurice had
now officially become doctor Hilliman. He found a job at
a vaccination manufacturing company, where he worked to create an

immunization for a certain strain of encephalitis. A few years later,
in nineteen forty eight, he joined the Army Medical Center
as a respiratory disease expert. He worked with a team
researching the flu and in nineteen fifty seven, when a
novel influenza strain emerged in Japan, doctor Hilliman and his
team quickly developed a vaccine, quite possibly stopping the strain

from becoming an epidemic. Then, at thirty eight years old,
doctor Hilliman left the Army and began working at a
pharmaceutical company called merk and this is where his research
really expanded. He led a team developing vaccines for all
sorts of diseases, including measles, chicken pox, hepatitis A and B,
and strap, but the most interesting vaccine doctor Hilliman developed

was for the mumps. At the time, in the early
nineteen sixties, nearly every child caught the mumps at some point.
While the disease itself wasn't usually fatal, it was a
leading cause of meningitis and hearing loss. One night in
nineteen sixty three, while he was sleeping next to his wife,
doctor Hilliman awoke to the sound of his five year
old daughter toddling into their room. Her name was Jerre Lynn.

Usually an energetic and happy child, she pulled on her
dad's arm and told him that she didn't feel good.
Maurice took stock of her symptoms fever, swollen throats, headache,
and realized that his daughter had the mumps. Now, not
every child grows up with a prolific microbiologist for a dad,
but Jara Lynn did. Doctor Hilliman jumped out of bed,

grabbed some cotton swabs, and took a saliva sample from
his daughter. The next morning, he brought the swab to
the Murk laboratory and got to work. It took some time,
but four years later, in nineteen sixty seven, doctor Hilliman
revealed his latest medical marvel. He had developed an effective
mumps vaccine using a viral sample from his own daughter.
It was the fastest a vaccine had ever been created

and approved until in twenty twenty, the COVID nineteen vaccine
shattered debt record. Doctor Hilliman continued his research for another
four decades. By the time he passed away in two
thousand and five at the age of eighty five, he
had been instrumental in creating over forty different vaccines. It's
estimated that even now his work saves approximately eight million

lives every year. So while I know that nobody likes needles,
I'm sure doctor Hilliman would say that you should shoot
your shot, or you should get your shots, you know
what I mean. I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour
of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts,

or learn more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast
dot com. The show was created by me Aaron Manke
in partnership with how Stuff Works. I make another award
winning show called Lore, which is a podcast, book series,
and television show, and you can learn all about it
over at Theworldoflore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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