United States agriculture turns to science

As the Great Depression wore on into the 1930s the economic plight of the American farmer deteriorated because of a surplus of products such as wheat, cotton, milk, and potatoes. The Farm Chemurgic Council, begun in 1935 by a group of scientists and industrialists and supported by Henry Ford and Irénée Du Pont, was convinced that "through research, practically unlimited opportunities existed for the creation of new products from farm commodities." (3) When Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 "as a new charter of freedom for farmers," one of its provisions was the establishment of regional research laboratories that would look for new uses of specific crops in different regions of the country.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was directed to determine what research in what areas had the most potential to benefit the American farmer. Within a year, a massive report was prepared, reviewing 10,000 research topics and covering 1300 institutions involved with chemurgic research. The USDA settled on four locations: Philadelphia, Peoria, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Acting quickly, Congress appropriated $4 million for the four almost identical research buildings at the four sites, and by the end of 1940 the buildings were completed, equipped, and staffed. The first research centers for farm commodities had begun operation less than three years after their concept had been proposed.

According to the 1940 Yearbook of Agriculture, their mission was straightforward enough. "The market for farm products is to be held – and expanded wherever possible – by aggressive use of … science and technology…. The desired result may not be attainable, but the game is not to be lost by default, at any rate." As the regional center for the western United States, the Western Regional Research Laboratory [now the Western Regional Research Center (WRRC)] was to focus on fruits and vegetables, wheat, potatoes, and alfalfa. It was built in Albany, California, adjacent to Berkeley; part of its land was a donation from the University of California. The planners of the original research centers expected that the initial list of commodities assigned to each center would expand and change with time, and they were not disappointed.

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Early methods of food preservation | A chance discovery | Frozen food chemistry | U.S. Agriculture turns to science | Frozen food research begins at WRRC | Defining "Quality"Chemical reactions at low temperaturesChlorophyll as a benchmark | Major scientific results from the T-TT programSocietal impact of the T-TT program | Landmark designation | Further reading and acknowledgments

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