From 1905-1925, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) published a series of seven monographs on hardy fruits as components of their annual report. The publications began with the two-volume Apples of New York, a 1905 report written by Station horticulturalist Spencer Ambrose Beach (1860-1922). Beach succeeded Emmet S. Goff (1852-1902), the first Station horticulturalist, in his research. Goff began work on apple varieties in 1883, and by 1900, his collection of research was the most noteworthy collection of its kind in the United States, containing over seven hundred named varieties of apples and crabapples.
Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick (1870-1951) continued the series, releasing six volumes on grapes, plums, cherries, peaches, pears and small fruits over a period of eighteen years. (Links below open in the NYS Library's Digital Collections.)
The goal of each volume was to present a complete scientific, cultural and economic record of each fruit. In his volumes, Hedrick noted each fruit's origin by tracing their first appearances in ancient literature. He believed the cherry was first recorded in the writings of Theophrastus, the grape in texts by Hesiod, and he spent pages trying to find clarity concerning the origins of the peach. The authors outlined each fruit's cultural and botanical histories, commercial importance, ideal geographic locations for their cultivation and biographical information of prominent growers. The series on the fruits of New York was meant to have significance not only for the agriculture of New York State, but for the United States and the world.
The volume on small fruit focused on bramble fruits (raspberry, blackberry, and dewberry), bush fruits (currant and gooseberry), and the strawberry. The cranberry, though recognized as important, could not be cultivated for study on the Station grounds. The blueberry was excluded for the same reason, though it was noted in the preface to the 1925 publication that the blueberry was "coming into culture with promise of commercial importance in the near future."
The books are remarkable not only for their scientific value, but for their art, as well. Between the seven fruit monographs, there are a total of 671 striking color plates. Fruit varieties for the color plates were chosen for several reasons: some had notable economic value; some were new varieties. Others were breeding varieties or noteworthy examples of the fruit's evolution. Some were particularly lacking in economic value and were chosen for color plates to familiarize readers with which varieties they should avoid.
Each volume gives credit to the Zeese-Wilkinson Company for their care in producing the plates. In the early 20th century, Gustav Zeese and W. J. Wilkinson were known for their expertise in producing color work and operated one of the largest color printing plants in the United States. The Zeese-Wilkinson Company detailed their history and process in a 1916 publication, A Trip Through the Colortype Plant of the Zeese-Wilkinson Company, and explained how the plates for the NYSAES fruit books were made directly from the fruit, rather than from a watercolor or drawing. The four-color process involved setting the fruit before a camera and creating four color-record negatives from which the final color plate could be printed.
The NYSAES was established as a state institution in 1880 by an act of the New York State Legislature. The Station's purpose was to conduct scientific research on the agriculture of New York and establish a communication network with the agricultural labor force (which made up roughly half of New York's total labor force in 1880), with an aim to increase agricultural success and consistency. It existed as an independent state institution under the Department of Agriculture until 1923, when the Station became part of Cornell University. Today, the Station carries out work on over 700 acres of land and continues to serve New York State agricultural progress in always-expanding capacities.
An 1883 Report of the Board of Control of the NYSAES to the New York State Assembly stated that the complexity of evolving farming methods created a need for an organization like the NYSAES. The report cited a desire to stave off immediate problems facing New York agriculture: insect pests, new diseases fatal to livestock, droughts, exhaustion of soil, and the threat of labor moving to more profitable states. "In the cheapened transportation of all products of farm industry from the more fertile fields of the west our farmers have found competition against which they may contend successfully only by the employment of the highest skill," wrote President of the Board of Control Robert J. Swan in the 1883 report.
Swan applauded farmers for taking steps toward greater success through "more thorough tillage, better protection for farm animals, improved seeds, extensive drainage, artificial fertilizers, and generally in the acquirement of knowledge leading to higher skill in all the methods of their labor." Here, Swan's address noted that individual effort alone could not address the problems facing agriculture on an industry-wide scale. The Station's purpose was to carry out controlled agricultural experiments to advance scientific knowledge and to maintain a communication network to make this knowledge accessible to the public.
As early as 1884, the Station noted that farmers were aware of the Station's work and were eager to present specific agricultural obstacles to the Station for experimentation and possible resolution. The Station began releasing weekly bulletins in July of 1882, sending them to newspapers, agricultural presses, other agricultural stations, and prominent individuals in agriculture. The bulletins show the Station's early focus on research into commercial fertilizers, cheese-making, plant diseases and bacteriology.
From the beginning of the Station's establishment, there was popular demand that variety testing in fruits and vegetables feature prominently in the Station's work. In the Station's Director's Report for 1896, W. H. Jordan states, "Probably no American station is so largely engaged in a study of varieties, chiefly of fruits, as is this one…" By 1896, 3,088 varieties of fruits were grown on the Station grounds. Studies were being conducted on the self-fertility of varieties of grapes, the value of various stocks for plum orchards and the hardiness of varieties of fruits in New York.
The Station's series on the fruits of New York were, and remain today, highly respected publications. A July 1932 circular released during the Station's fiftieth year, Facts about the Geneva Station, noted the "exhaustive monographs on the hardy fruits" and stated that the texts were, by that time, "accepted universally as standard treatises on the subject."
The Station's Geneva, NY location is still home to the NYSAES, now known as Cornell AgriTech and part of Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. It maintains 850 acres of land and 65,000 square feet of greenhouse space for students and faculty to conduct fruit and vegetable research. Cornell's School of Integrative Plant Science contains the only horticulture program offered in any Ivy League school.
Spencer Ambrose Beach was born in Sumnerhill, New York and attended Cayuga County public schools before attending high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Iowa State College from 1884-1887. After receiving his Bachelor of Science, he sold nursery stock in Atlantic, Iowa for three years, familiarizing himself with the challenges of farmers before returning to school to earn a Master of Science in plant pathology from Iowa State College. Beach was the head of the horticulture department at Texas A&M for one year before starting a 14-year period at the NYSAES, where, in 1898, he established the Station's first fruit breeding program. The still-popular Cortland apple was created by Beach at the NYSAES in 1915 when he crossed the Ben Davis apple with a Macintosh.
Beach returned to Iowa State College in 1905, accepting a position as the head of its horticulture department and Vice Dean of the College of Agriculture. He developed the school's curriculum, increased enrollment and staff, and led the college through a period of remarkable horticultural innovation. He used his skill with plant breeding to introduce winter-hardy apples to the upper Mississippi Valley and inspired the addition of a genetics department in Iowa's College of Agriculture after he taught a course in plant breeding. After he was made an honorary member of the Royal Horticultural Society of London in 1903, he realized the need for a comparable American society. He was instrumental in the creation of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS), for which he served terms as secretary and president. Beach was recognized as part of the ASHS Hall of Fame in 1993 for his achievements at the NYSAES and Iowa State.
Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick was an accomplished horticulturalist, botanist and writer. Born in Iowa, he spent his childhood in Northern Michigan and attended Michigan State Agricultural College, receiving a Bachelor of Science in 1893 and a Master of Science in 1895. Before becoming a horticulturalist with the NYSAES in 1905, he taught at the agricultural colleges of Oregon, Utah and Michigan. He took on the directorship of the NYSAES from 1928 until his retirement in 1937. Hedrick served as president of the ASHS and won the Wilder Award from the American Pomological Society (APS) in 1929 for his work in plant breeding. The APS established the U. P. Hedrick award in 1982 for students demonstrating promise in the field of pomology.
Hedrick's lifelong dedication to horticulture was influenced by his family and childhood. He writes in his 1948 autobiographical book The Land of the Crooked Tree, "just as a soldier likes to die with a sword in his hand, Father would have chosen to die with a hoe in his." He notes that his father's farm was "wholly utilitarian" and meant to provide food and income for their family, but the poetic care Hedrick gives his horticultural memories indicates that his interest in the subject was as personal as it was practical.
The histories of Beach, Hedrick and the NYSAES provide insight into how the early infrastructure for horticultural research and agricultural progress in New York State was established. The volumes on the fruits of New York remain classic, revered examples of early 20th century American horticultural accomplishment.
Exhibit curated by Kristin Fitzgerald