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Agronomy Journal Abstract - ARTICLE

William J. Beal: Pioneer Applied Botanical Scientist and Research Society Builder


This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 100 No. Supplement_3, p. S-4-S-10
    Received: Jan 5, 2007

    * Corresponding author(s): cooking1@msu.edu
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  1. James B Bearda and
  2. Peter O. Cookingham *b
  1. a International Sports Turf Institute and Texas A&M Univ., P.O. Box 10065, College Station, TX 77840
    b Turfgrass Information Center, Michigan State Univ. Libraries, East Lansing, MI 48824-1048


Professor William James Beal (1833–1924) became a leading educator and researcher in applied plant science while serving on the faculty of the new State Agricultural College in Michigan from 1871 to 1910. He was a key leader of the experimental movement of agricultural botany. Beal conducted the (i) first demonstration of hybrid vigor by controlled crossing of corn lines, 1878; (ii) initiation of the oldest ongoing U.S. botanical experiment involving the vitality of buried seeds, 1879; and (iii) first turfgrass experiments, including polystand compatibility, 1880. He initiated early, extensive seed purity/viability testing in 1877, and also organized the oldest, continuously operating U.S. botanical garden in 1877. He was an early advocate for forest conservation and reforestation. These works resulted in more than 1200 papers, plus seven extensive texts. Beal was a key proponent of scholarly communications among the few isolated scientists active in applied botany and in agricultural research. His efforts contributed to the formation of several important early national agricultural science organizations. Beal was a key founder and first President of the (i) Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science (SPAS), 1880; (ii) Association of Botanists in the United States Agricultural Experiment Stations, 1889; (iii) Botanical Club of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1888; and (iv) Michigan Academy of Science, 1884. The visionary outlook in organization of the SPAS was a vital pioneering step leading to formation of the American Society of Agronomy in 1907.

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