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Title: ARS Timeline...144 Years of Ag Research

Chronological history by decade from
the creation of USDA in 1862 until 2000

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History of Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Service
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Blue=USDA research accomplishment


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photo of cow

Holsteins are known for producing large quantities of milk.

photo of highbush blueberries

Hybush blueberries were initially selected from wild strains.

photo of sheep

USDA made initial crosses between Lincoln and Ramboullet sheep breeds, leading to the Columbia breed.

photo of roots with rhizobium

The roots of soybean and alfalfa plants help keep soils healthy and fertile, thanks to the Rhizobium bacteria that live in them.


1860s 1870s
1880s 1890s
1900s 1910s
1920s 1930s
1940s 1950s
1960s 1970s
1980s 1990s



Wild blueberry domesticated.

Demonstrated that pasteurization kills toxin-producing organisms in raw milk without destroying beneficial lactic acid bacteria.

Insecticide and Fungicide Act passed.

Brucella abortus first isolated from cattle in the U.S.

Of gainfully employed persons, 31 percent were engaged in agriculture.

Demonstrated that typhus fever is transmitted by lice.

Radium isolated.

Cossack alfalfa released.

First Farm Bureau formed in Broome County, NY.

Discovered a virus that can cause cancer in chickens; first experimental proof of an infectious agent of cancer.

Rubel highbush blueberry selected in the wild.

Plant Quarantine Act passed.

Radioisotope labeling invented.

Seed Importation Act prohibited entry into the U.S. of certain adulterated grains and seeds unfit for seeding purposes.

Federal Plant Quarantine Act passed.

Thomas Hunt Morgan announced his theory of genes; began using the term 'gene’ in 1904 to describe individual parts of chromosomes that control particular characteristics. (more)

USDA makes initial crosses between Lincoln and Ramboullet sheep breeds, leading to the Columbia breed.

Demonstrated that drought begins when soil moisture is so diminished that vegetation is unable to absorb water from the soil rapidly enough to replace the water lost to the air by transpiration.

Virus-Serum Toxin Act passed.

Forerunner of the light tractor introduced.

Rhizobium nodules from soybean plants started world's first rhizobium collection; established as a formal collection in 1975.(more)

First U.S. veterinary license issued for production of anti-hog-cholera serum. (more)

World War I began in Europe.

Smith-Lever Act formalized cooperative agricultural extension work.

Cultures of nitrogen-fixing bacteria supplied to legume growers for the purpose of increasing the plants' nitrogen-fixing capacity.

Discovered bacteriophage.

Two publications reporting research on terraces and control of gullies printed. They remain the standard reference works in their field for erosion control. (more)

Studies made of precooling to prevent decay in red raspberries; these studies led to precooling as an established agricultural practice.

Stainless steel invented.

Calcium arsenate developed for use on boll weevil.

United States Grain Standards Act passed.

Federal Farm Loan Act passed.

Standard Container Act passed.

Federal Highway Act provided for cooperation with states in construction of rural post roads.

Japanese beetles discovered in New Jersey.(more)

A system for growing modern hybrid corn developed.(more)

European corn borer discovered near Boston, MA.

United States entered World War I.

U.S. grade standards for potatoes issued, representing the first official grade standard for a fruit or vegetable issued by USDA.

Pink bollworm discovered in Texas.

Demonstrated that raw milk could transmit a bacterium, Brucella abortus, that causes brucellosis in cattle and undulant fever in humans.

Long-term study of dairy improvement started; increased production per cow from 542 pounds of butterfat in 1920 to more than 720 pounds today.

World War I ended.

Discovered that relative day and night length control flowering, known as photoperiodism.(more)

Discovered existence of pathogenic races of plant fungi.

Discovered temperature necessary to kill trichinae.

Term 'biological control' coined.(more)

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Send comments or questions about this historical timeline to Sean Adams.