George Harrison Shull papers, 1874-1955

Mss.B.Sh92

Date: 1874-1955 | Size: 6 Linear feet

Abstract

This collection consists of materials relating to Shull's work commissioned by the Carnegie Institution of Washington to collaborate with their grantee, Luther Burbank, with the aim of analyzing Burbank's data on plant breeding and hybridization and preparing it for publication in suitable scientific journals. Shull visited Burbank's plant-breeding farm in California eight times between 1906 and 1910. There are files for each plant genus involved in Burbank's work. These files contain notes, calculations, clippings from newspapers or periodicals, and an unpublished manuscript of Shull's final report to the Carnegie Institution. There is also a report by Edwin C. MacDowell, which gives background information about the collection.

Background note

George Harrison Shull was a botanist. He was a botanical investigator at the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1904 to 1915 and taught botany and genetics at Princeton University from 1915 to 1942.

G. H. Shull worked on hereditary variation in many different plants during his career: the evening primrose (Oenothera), the shepherd's purse (Bursa), Indian corn (Zea), bean (Phaseolus), pink (Lychnis), foxglove (Digitalis), sunflower (Helianthus), tomato (Lycopelricon), poppy (Papaver), potato (Solanum), and tobacco (Nicotiana). He is chiefly noted, however, for one major achievement that laid the foundation for the development of hybrid corn and the other hybrids responsible in the latter part of the twentieth century for the "Green Revolution." This was probably the single most important agricultural advance of the century. It has been estimated that during World War II, when hybrid corn was first cultivated, it increased corn yields in the United States by 20 per cent -- a gain of 1.8 billion bushels worth $2 billion dollars, enough to pay for the Manhattan Project, and also enabling the United States to ship vast quantities of food abroad after the war, and so to prevent famine and pestilence.

Although many others were involved in the development of hybrid corn, Shull's contribution was the basic one. In breeding begun in 1905 at Cold Spring Harbor, he applied the principles of Mendelian heredity to analyze the inheritance of quantitative characters in corn (maize), especially the number of rows of kernels per ear. He self-pollinated the corn in order to produce a number of pure, inbred lines that differed in the average number of rows. These lines, as inbreeding continued, declined in vigor and productivity. When, however, they were crossed, the hybrids were not only extremely uniform but also highly vigorous and productive. They were definitely superior to the original open-pollinated strains with which Shull had started his work. Shull's papers of 1908 and 1909 describing this series of experiments in detail laid the basis for hybrid corn breeding with its higher yields, greater uniformity, more exact specializations to fit particular climates and soils, and desirable chemical content and nutritive qualities. Paul C. Mangelsdorf has said: "Certainly it was one of the most remarkable achievements of our time in the field of applied biology. Shull's idea of producing and maintaining otherwise useless inbred strains of maize solely for the purpose of utilizing the increased vigor and uniformity resulting from their hybridization was revolutionary as a method of corn breeding. It is still the basic principle which underlies almost the entire hybrid corn enterprise." In December, 1905, the Carnegie Institution of Washington selected G. H. Shull as the geneticist to work with the famed plant breeder Luther Burbank, to whom the Carnegie Institution had made a handsome grant of funds, in order to prepare "a scientific account of the ways, means, methods, and results of Mr. Burbank's work... " (President Woodward's first annual report, in the Yearbook of 1905). Shull was to begin in March, 1906, was to return to Cold Spring Harbor to carry on his own work from June through September, and then return to Santa Rosa to collaborate with Luther Burbank as long as necessary.

In July of 1906 Shull made a preliminary report to the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The unpublished manuscript of this report, a remarkably perceptive document commenting fully on Burbank's methods and results, and expressing also the great difficulties experienced by the young geneticist in trying to work with the opinionated elder plant breeder, remained unpublished in the Shull Papers, until unearthed and published by Bentley Glass (Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 124: 133-153. 1980). As the sequel showed, nothing much ever came of the project, although Shull spent a number of additional months at Santa Rosa in the effort to complete his work. It dragged on until 1914, when Shull finally used the outbreak of World War I as an excuse to terminate the project. The Shull Papers, in addition to the manuscript of the 1906 report, contain newspaper and magazine clippings and handwritten notes by Shull, arranged genus by genus, all relating to Burbank's extensive collections of wild species and varieties of plants and his hybridizations.

Collection Information

Physical description

6 linear feet.

Provenance

Presented by the Carnegie Institution of Washington and accessioned, 07/27/1965 (1965 1476ms). 2 notebooks presented by Herbert P. Riley and accessioned, 03/08/1966 (1966 334ms). 40 letters to HPR presented by Herbert P. Riley and accessioned, 1969 (1969 320ms).

Processing information

Index incomplete.

Related material

There are 90 letters to or from G. H. Shull in the Blakeslee Papers (B B585), 561 in the Davenport Papers (B D27), 36 in the Demerec Papers (B D394), 72 in the Jennings Papers (B J44), and 44 in the Stern Papers (Ms. Coll. 5).

Genetics Note

This collection contains materials which relate to the history of genetics.

AuthorFormatDate
Riley, Herbert P.Correspondence (32 items)1932-1952

Indexing Terms


Corporate Name(s)

  • Carnegie Institution of Washington

Genre(s)

  • Notebooks.
  • Reports.

Personal Name(s)

  • Burbank, Luther, 1849-1926
  • MacDowell, E. Carleton (Edwin Carleton), 1887-1973
  • Riley, Herbert Parkes
  • Shull, George Harrison, 1874-1954

Subject(s)

  • Botany.
  • Flowers.
  • Genetics.
  • Plant breeding -- California
  • Plant genetics.
  • Plants.


Detailed Inventory

Selected Inventory from Genetics Subject Guide
  
Riley, Herbert P.
1932-195232 item(s); Correspondence ( 32 items )

General physical description: Correspondence ( 32 items )


Subject(s): Evolution; Educational matters -- Textbooks; Biographical and personal data; Zea (maize) genetics; World War II -- Impact on science; Teaching; Publication; Princeton University; International Congress of Genetics; History of biology, especially genetics; Genetics of plants; Genetics -- Nomenclature

B Sh92.1. Oenothera notebook
  volume 1
Correspondence
  
Why Dr. Shull raises primroses
1931 
Shull, George Harrison, 1874-1954.
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1948 November 18 

Princeton, N.J., A.L.S. 4p. Sorry he lost his building by fire but hopes he can rebuild it better. Genetics and botany. His herbarium and the loss of one at Princeton. Presented by Dr. Riley; Sept. 13, 1968. Interfiled with other Shull papers.

Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1932 November 1 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1933 February 6 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1933 March 2 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1933 May 19 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1934 December 2 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1936 November 26 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1937 August 27 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1938 February 22 
Shull, George Harrison, 1874-1954.
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes and Agnes Riley
1941 August 20 

Princeton, N.J., A.L.S.: Geo. H. Shull and family. 8p. Botanical and genetic news. Difficulty in having the APS publish his study. Personal news. Presented by Dr. Riley; Sept. 13,1968. Interfiled with other Shull papers.

Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1942 May 13 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1945 February 8 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1945 October 2 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1945 November 11 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1945 November 18 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 January 21 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 April 26 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 May 30 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 June 5 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 June 7 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 June 10 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 August 14 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 August 27 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 September 24 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 October 26 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1946 November 10 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1947 March 21 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1947 May 14 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1948 April 20 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1948 May 5 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1948 July 22 
Shull, George Harrison. List of Capsella seeds sent to Herbert Parkes Riley.
1948 August 1 
Shull, George Harrison. Observations and suggestions for the executrix and/or executors of the last will and testament of George Harrison Shull.
1949 February 2 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1949 March 20 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1951 July 13 
Shull, George Harrison to Herbert Parkes Riley
1952 February 29 
Shull, George Harrison and Mary to Herbert and Agnes Riley
1954 January 16 
Shull, Mary to Herbert Parkes Riley
1954 September 22 
Shull, Mary to Herbert Parkes Riley
1954 September 29 
George Harrison Shull obituary
1955 May 
Riley, Herbert Parkes to George Harrison Shull
circa 1955