In spring 2007, Ray Riley ’79 ’81 received a call from the New York Times asking for beef jerky samples. Riley manages the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center at Texas A&M University, where students, faculty and staff manufactured and sold a signature recipe jerky alongside other beef products in-house. Riley thought little of the request until months later when a feature appeared in the paper dubbing the center’s jerky the best in the nation.
“The curled husks looked like the bark harvested from a magical meat tree,” the feature read. “There was an outdoorsy smokiness on the nose and a slowly unfolding flavor with a fierce black pepper finish.” With that mouth-watering endorsement, carnivores across America flooded the center’s phone with orders. “We sold more jerky that following month than we did the previous year!” Riley said.
Though state and national press coverage has mostly underscored its jerky (still sold “the old-fashioned way” over the phone) in recent years, the Rosenthal Center’s focus remains on leading meat science education, research and public service. Research from the center has been especially influential, impacting more than 70% of beef, lamb and pork consumers in the United States today, while the program has also produced more Meat Industry Hall of Fame inductees than any other American university. With plans for a new, cutting-edge facility underway, the meat science program looks to retain its status as the strongest in the nation.
As the first land-grant institution in a state historically dependent on its beef cattle industry, Texas A&M set its sights on meat science research in its infancy and has remained a leader since. Before the Rosenthal Center’s construction, cattle were routinely harvested and processed on campus in the Animal Industries Building, which now hosts the university’s nuclear engineering department. During World War II, students and staff processed 9,500 head of livestock in the building, selling more than four million pounds of meat for roughly $300,000 to aid the war effort.
In time, the meat science program blossomed into the largest in the United States, lending much prestige to an already-preeminent animal science department in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. To further accommodate the program, a comprehensive 29,538-square-foot facility was constructed in 1983 and dedicated to former student E.M. "Manny" Rosenthal '42 four years later.
Before he came to Aggieland, Rosenthal worked for Standard Meat Co., which his father founded when Manny was 13. After earning his bachelor’s in animal science with a minor in business administration, Rosenthal served in the Army for three years in North Africa and Europe helping provide meat rations to fellow troops before returning to his father’s business. With his principled leadership and business acumen, Rosenthal helped build Standard Meat into a principal supplier to hotel, restaurant and military outlets.
Rosenthal gave back generously to the arts, the Jewish community and Texas A&M’s meat science program. In 1987, he established the United States’ first endowed meat sciences chair at Texas A&M. The first professor to hold the chair, Dr. Russell Cross ’72, enjoyed a special relationship with his benefactor. “Manny Rosenthal was a very good friend of mine,” Cross said. “He always had a love for Texas A&M and the Department of Animal Science especially.”