Spring 1998

People of the Century

Making Things Grow

John Deere equipment is a familiar site on American farms. Theo Brown was Deere's chief designer for many years.

O ne of the earliest WPI graduates to devote his life's work to agriculture was Henry P. Armsby, a member of WPI's first graduating class, the Class of 1871. Years later, he also had the distinction of earning WPI's first honorary degree. Armsby helped establish the Connecticut Experimental Station and taught at the Storrs Agricultural School (later the University of Connecticut) before directing a new agricultural experiment station at the University of Wisconsin. It was there that he became interested in the new science of animal nutrition and developed tables of feeding standards based on experimentation. In 1887, he joined Pennsylvania State University, where he built a respiration calorimeter to study large animals. With it, he showed that it was wasteful to feed animals agricultural products that could be consumed by humans. He published Principles of Animal Nutrition, a classic reference for researchers and farmers.

Nathan A. Cobb, Class of 1881, is credited with classifying more than 1,000 new species of plants and animals around the world. He began his career in Australia, where he was a professor of biology at Sydney University. He later became the chief scientific officer and pathologist for the Australian Department of Agriculture, where he made important discoveries about tapeworms, a killer of sheep. He ultimately returned to the United States to work in the Bureau of Plant Industry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Later, as chief nemotologist, he made many new discoveries about nematodes, which are destructive to many agricultural crops. He received a special medal from the National Cotton Manufacturers Association for his development of methods for determining the properties and value of cotton.

Elmer C. Rice, Class of 1890, began his career as a newspaper reporter for the Boston Herald. But after interviewing a poultry farmer and discovering that there was a ready market for squabs, he abandoned daily journalism and began publishing pamphlets on the care and breeding of squabs. Eventually, he decided to try his hand at poultry farming. Finding it difficult to meet the demand for the young birds, he began importing squabs; when World War I cut off his supply, he found a fast-breeding stock in New Jersey and watched his business grow. In time he became the undisputed leader in the field.

Anyone familiar with farm equipment knows the name John Deere. Theo Brown, Class of 1901, was responsible for many of the innovations introduced by Deere in the first half of the 20th century. Brown began his career with Richardson Manufacturing Co. as an inventor of agricultural equipment and joined John Deere in 1911. He was ultimately responsible for nearly 160 patents, most of them for Deere. His lifetime achievements won him the Cyrus H. McCormick Medal for outstanding service to agricultural engineering.

Two WPI alumni made important contributions to the textile industry. Thaddeus S. Grimes, Class of 1889, was named a "Modern Pioneer of America" by the National Association of Manufacturers for his inventions in the field of cotton ginning, which included an automatic lift for the cotton press. Charles F. Goldthwait '09 was one of the nation's premier textile chemists. Working in industry, government and academia, he studied virtually every manmade and natural fiber. His inventions included a stretch cotton fabric and the differential dye test of maturation and processing quality of cotton fiber in the boll.

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Last Modified: Thu June 10 11:52:52 EDT 1999