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Erwin Frink Smith Papers


The Papers of Erwin F. Smith, 1813-1938, occupy 3.5 linear feet, or 8 manuscript boxes. The collection, a portion of Dr. Smith's papers from his office, was probably acquired by the library around 1927 when his scientific library was being disposed of by his estate. Materials are in good condition. The collection was arranged and described by Ellen Landon Mann.

Finding Aid File


Biographical Sketch

1854 Born on January 21 in Gilbert Mills, Oswego County, New York.
1881 Published book, with Charles Wheeler, on the flora of Michigan entitled Catalogue of the Phaenogamous and Vascular Cryptogamous Plants of Michigan, Indigenous, Naturalized, and Adventitive.
1885 Wrote treatise on sanitation, The Influence of Sewerage and Water-Supply on the Death Rate in Cities.
1886 Received B.S. in Biology from University of Michigan. Began working for USDA in Section of Mycology in Bureau of Plant Industry.
1889 Received doctorate from University of Michigan, based on his work on the orchard disease, peach yellows. Promoted to expert pathologist, chief of Plant Pathology in Bureau of Plant Industry.
1886-1892 Investigated peach yellows and peach rosette.
1894-1910 Researched fusarium diseases of melons, cotton, cowpeas, tomatoes, potatoes, and cabbage.
1892 Started investigating bacteria as an important pathogen of plants. (By 1880, T. J. Burrill, of the University of Illinois, had concluded that fire blight of pears and apples was caused by bacteria.)
1895 Studied the bacterial wilt of cucurbits. Published his first paper on bacteria as the cause of plant diseases in Centralblatt fur Bakteriologie.
1899 Published a paper, "The Fungous Infestation of Agricultural Soils in the United States" (Scientific American Supplement, 48, No. 1246, 19981-19982).
1890's-1901 Replied to Fischer in German in Centralblatt fur Bakteriologie (1899,1901). Dr. Alfred Fischer of Germany had stated that there was no proof that bacteria caused plant diseases. Thus began the famous Fischer-Smith polemic.
1905-1911 Published 3-volume treatise, Bacteria in Relation to Plant Diseases.
1913 Received award from American Medical Association for his work on plant cancer. He researched crown galls --cancer of plants--and their relationship to cancer in humans.
1920 Published An Introduction to Bacterial Diseases of Plants, dedicated to T. J. Burrill, Volney Spalding, and Charles Wheeler.
1926 Was honored in December at a dinner given by the American Phytopathological Society. Was lauded as "scientist, linguist, poet, friend, who for forty years has devoted his life's service to the broad field of pathology."
1927 Died on April 6 at the age of 73 in Washington, D.C.

Scope and Content Note

Erwin F. Smith (1854-1927) was the Chief of Plant Pathology in the United States Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Plant Industry, for nearly four decades, from 1889 to 1927. In addition to his field research, he worked to improve bacteriological techniques. He was an active member of many scientific societies and served as an officer for a number of them. Smith was a prolific author who contributed articles to scientific journals, wrote bulletins and circulars for USDA, and published several books.

The Smith papers, spanning the years 1813 to 1939, are divided into six series and are housed in eight manuscript boxes. As an introduction to the collection, Series I involves data of a personal nature, including a photograph, biographies, and bibliographies. Biographies written by people who knew Smith-E. W. Brandes, Rodney True, and Frederick Rand-describe Smith's background, education, personality, and character. Of particular note are Smith's addresses, especially the one from 1924 entitled "Some Thoughts on Old Age."

The bulk of the collection is comprised of Smith's writings (Series II, III, IV, and V). Series II includes his treatise on sanitation. Series III, encompassing a wide spectrum of subjects, incorporates his first paper on bacteria as a plant pathogen, his first paper on the fungous infestation of soils, and material on the Fischer-Smith polemic. Series III, IV, and V include the results of his studies on crown gall in plants and its relationship to cancer in animals. Smith's book, An Introduction to Plant Diseases, published in 1920 is located in Series V.

Series VI contains correspondence to Smith, notably from L. H. Bailey.

The concluding series, VII, covers miscellaneous data, including reviews of Smith's writings, and the disposition of his scientific library upon his death in 1927. On the whole, the Smith papers are in good condition.

Series Description

Series I. Biographical and Bibliographical Data. 1887-1938. 1 box.

Contains personal data, including biographies, a Washington Post article about Smith, a photograph, obituary, testimonials given at the American Phytopathological Society dinner in his honor in 1926, speeches and testimony by Smith, several bibliographies of his writings.

Series II. Early Writings by Smith. 1873-1885. 0.25 box.

Includes photocopies of the School Moderator from 1882-1885. In the Miscellaneous Folder is an assortment of clippings, mostly with no provenance, pasted into a journal; presumably all articles are authored by Smith; some have pseudonyms such as Hydro. Includes treatise on sanitation.

Series III. Reprints by Smith. 1895-1926. 1.75 boxes.

Consists of reprints of articles he wrote for scientific journals, including those he wrote in languages other than English. Arranged alphabetically by journal title, then chronologically.

Series IV. USDA Publications by Smith. 1896-1918. 1 box.

Contains Bulletins and Circulars and Farmers' Bulletins on plant diseases. Arranged alphabetically by series, then chronologically.

Series V. Other Publications by Smith. 1888-1920. 2 boxes.

Consists of books and some miscellaneous USDA publications. Arranged chronologically.

Series VI. Correspondence. 1869-1900. .5 box.

Includes correspondence with L. H. Bailey.

Series VII. Miscellaneous. 1813-1930. 1.5 boxes.

Contains reviews of Smith's writings, and data pertaining to the disposition of his library upon his death in 1927. Includes some reference materials plus copies of The Official Record from 1928 and 1930.


Information for the Biographical Sketch and the Scope and Content Note was taken from the following sources:

Campbell, C. Lee, "Erwin Frink Smith -- Pioneer Plant Pathologist" Annual Review of Phytopathology. 21:21-27 (1983).

Jones, L. R., Biographical Memoir of Erwin Frink Smith, 1854-1927 with synopsis of researches by Erwin F. Smith and bibliography by Frederick V. Rand, Washington: National Academy of Sciences, 1939.

True, Rodney H., "Erwin F. Smith, 1854-1927" Phytopathology. 17(10):675-688 (October 1927).

Selected References Held in Special Collections:

Jones, L. R., Biographical Memoir of Erwin Frink Smith, 1854-1927 with synopsis of researches by Erwin F. Smith and bibliography by Frederick V. Rand, Washington: National Academy of Sciences, 1939. NAL Call No. 120.Sm6

Rodgers, Andrew Denny, Erwin Frink Smith---A Story of North American Plant Pathology, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1952.
NAL Call No. 500.P533M v.31 (stacks also)

Smith, Erwin F., Bacteria in Relation to Plant Diseases, Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 3 volumes, 1905-1913. NAL Call No. 464.2.Sm6B (stacks also)

Smith, Erwin F., An Introduction to Bacterial Diseases of Plants, Philadelphia: W.B.Saunders & Co., 1920. NAL Call No. 464.2.Sm5 (The Papers of Erwin F. Smith; stacks also)

Wheeler, Charles and Smith, Erwin, Catalogue of the Phaenogamous and Vascular Cryptogamous Plants of Michigan, Indigenous, Naturalized, and Adventitive, Lansing: W.S.George & Co., 1881. NAL Call No. 455.31.W56 (stacks also)

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