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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 soldiers

The lives of thousands of Allied soldiers who hit the beaches of Normandy and the South Pacific in World War II were saved by the miracle drug penicillin.

photo of Andrew Moyer

USDA chemist Andrew J. Moyer developed an industrial process for making penicillin and other antibiotics, vitamins, drugs, and chemicals.

photo of Beltsville small white turkey

Today’s turkeys, selectively bred for traits of economic importance, are about twice the size of their Beltsville small white ancestors.

photo of Harry Borthwick

ARS botanist Harry A. Borthwick helped discover the plant photoreceptor protein called phytochrome.

photo of orange juice made from concentrate

U.S. processors froze over 240 million gallons of concentrated orange juice in 1996.

photo of horse

USDA research has led to the detection, control, and eradication of several equine diseases.

photo of scientists

Researchers inspect DNA sequences of samples from the most recent avian leukosis virus sub-group J isolated from a U.S. broiler breeder flock.

photo of soybeans

Today, soybeans are grown in more than half the United States. Yet, a hundred years ago, they were virtually unheard of.


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




Developed and tested soilless media for plant growth; vermiculite discovered.

Of gainfully employed persons, 18 percent were engaged in agriculture.

Actinomycin antibiotic obtained from soil microorganisms.

Developed new compound, ascorbyl palmitate, from vitamin C and a long-chain fatty acid; used as an antioxidant in vegetable soils and as a dietary supplement.

First commercial controlled-atmosphere storage for apples constructed.

Mildew- and rot-proof fabrics and bandages developed.(more)

First simple daily nutrition guide published.(more)

Beltsville small white turkey developed; ancestor of today's commercial turkeys.

United States entered World War II.

Deep-vat fermentation developed in Peoria, IL, allowing mass-production of penicillin. (more)

War Powers Act passed.

International Harvester Company perfected a one-row high-drum picker for cotton.

Utilization Research and Development Divisions established by USDA in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, and California to develop new industrial outlets for agricultural products and crop residues.(more)

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Found genetic resistance to corn earworm in a line of flour corn.

Demonstrated that methyl bromide is a broad-spectrum biocide and controls nematodes.

First nuclear reactor built.

Growth regulation ability of 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) discovered; chemical was later widely used as an herbicide.

Postulated important physiological effect of rutin on capillary blood vessels; discovered that buckwheat was economical source of rutin and developed manufacturing procedures.

Emergency Rubber Production Act passed.

Discovered chemical structure of DDT; military began to use chemical to protect against typhus.(more)

Rhodesgrass mealybug identified in the U.S.

Induced ovulation in domestic fowl.

Lincoln Smooth Bromegrass released; dominant variety for several years.

Ranger alfalfa released; dominant variety for several years.

Effective huller developed for harvesting castor beans.

Dourine of horses eradicated.

Aerosol container for dispensing insecticides patented.(more)

Palatable dehydrated eggs developed.

United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration established.

Office of War Mobilization established.

Citrus canker eradicated from seven gulf states.

Developed method for cleaning Navy airplane engines by blasting them with ground corn cobs.

Willamette red raspberry released; predominant Northwest cultivar until 1980s.

Research to create fruit essences began; led to development of concentrated frozen apple and grape juices.

Found that linoleic and linolenic acids were retarding process of making synthetic rubber from butadiene and styrene; solved by partial hydrogenation.

Texas cattle fever eradicated.(more)

Coastal bermudagrass released; revolutionized forage grass production in the southern U.S.

Buffalo alfalfa released.

Discovered epoxidation, which allowed production of flexible vinyl.

Organic Act provided for control and eradication of certain animal and plant pests and diseases.

Antibiotic streptomycin isolated from soil microorganisms.

Complement fixation test to diagnose anaplasmosis in cattle developed.

Comstock mealybug controlled in eastern U.S. using biological control. (more)

World War II ended.

Food and Agriculture Organization formed by the United Nations.

Developed a process for preparing purified grade of oleic acid from inedible animal fats, used in cosmetics and as lubricants in textile mills.

Bankhead-Flanagan Act provided for expansion of county extension work.

Germany and Japan surrendered to the Allies.

Developed cytoplasmic male-sterile sugar beet lines; led to emphasis on hybrid development.

Established that clay particles are minerals with crystalline structures.

Developed x-ray diffraction to analyze fertilizers.

Established fresh fruit maturity standards for marketing oranges.

National School Lunch Act passed.

Technique developed to produce high-quality frozen orange juice concentrate. (more)

Research and Marketing Act passed.

Oriental fruit flies found in Hawaiian Islands.(more)

Released 5,000 beetles as biological controls against Klamath weed; the first successful attempt in the U.S. to control a weed with a plant-eating insect.

Vigo soft red winter wheat released; one of first of these types to withstand leaf rust.

Avian leukosis virus first isolated.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act passed; replaced Insecticide Act of 1910.

First U.S. case of scrapie diagnosed in sheep.

Organophosphate pesticides developed.(more)

Saw-type lint cleaner for cotton gins developed.(more)

Congress authorized cooperative project with Mexico to eradicate foot-and-mouth disease there.(more)

National Foundation Seed Project organized by USDA to assist the states in the rapid buildup of foundation seed supplies.

Discovered antibiotic polymyxin.

Marfed soft white spring wheat released, the major spring wheat grown in Washington until semidwarf wheats were introduced.

Saint Anthony Falls stilling basin designed.

Time-temperature tolerance project began; ultimately developed nine principles for freezing vegetables that remain the industry standard. (more)

Cortisone found to relieve rheumatoid arthritis.

Screened 6,600 plant species for useful chemicals. Found Mexican yam to have highest yield of compound diosgenin, an ingredient that can be used to produce cortisone.

Chehalem trailing blackberry released; one of the first high-quality processing cultivars.

Kennebec potato released.

Synthesized esters determined to be similar to the active constituents of pyrethrum; one of these synthetic insecticides, allerthrin, used in aerosol pesticide bombs.(more)

Methods developed to remove off-taste in soybean oil, including deactivating trace metal contamination and reducing content of rancidity-causing linolenic acid.(more)

Radiocarbon dating invented.

Bluecrop highbush blueberry released; the most widely planted blueberry cultivar in the world.

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