The Documentary Files contain materials on the history of the USDA and agriculture in the United States, including letters, memoranda, press releases, speeches, reports, minutes, charts, statistical tables, printed materials, clippings, and papers and articles by USDA staff and others. Most of the materials are from the 20th century; items of earlier date are generally copies or transcriptions from other sources.

These files formed the backbone of the materials kept by the Agricultural and Rural History Section (ARH), and they comprise the largest series in the USDA History Collection. ARH began assembling this file during World War II, and continued until the office was closed in 1994. (Volunteers made small additions to the files until they were transferred to NAL in 1997.) The files were organized into six chronological groups, each group arranged according to a detailed subject outline.

Many of the materials found here are secondary sources including published reports, clippings, transcriptions and photocopies. However, the Documentary Files also include significant sections of primary materials, including original letters, memoranda, draft reports and tables, and items such as review copies of reports or memos with manuscript comments and corrections. Detailed scope and content notes are included in the sections of this finding aid pertaining to each subseries.


Following the system established by ARH, Series I is organized in six subseries by time period. Each subseries was originally set up to document a certain span of years: the first subseries covers 1914-1939, the second covers 1939-1949, and so on.

However, many items that date either earlier or later than the specific time periods designated have been found in each section. Usually the material pertains to the subject and/or time period of the file and provides background material, or a retrospective view of the topic.

For instance, almost all the material in the Documentary Files pertaining to Henry A. Wallace (Secretary of Agriculture, 1933-1940), is filed in the first subseries, which nominally covers the years 1914-1939. However, many items included there relate to his youth and early career, and others date from later years, up to and even beyond his death in 1965.

Therefore, in describing these subseries, the first set of span dates indicates the actual dates of materials found; the "bulk" dates indicate the time period that each part of the files was intended to cover.

Subseries 1. ..................... 1822-1995 (bulk 1914-1939)
Subseries 2. ..................... 1907-1982 (bulk 1939-1949)
Subseries 3. ..................... 1939-1992 (bulk 1949-1956)
Subseries 4. ..................... 1957-1977 (bulk 1957-1977)
Subseries 5. ..................... 1906-1995 (bulk 1977-1988)
Subseries 6. ..................... 1920-1997 (bulk 1989-1994)

Arrangement:   The Outlines (Classification Schemes)

Within each subseries, the files are arranged according to a classification scheme in outline form developed by the historians of the Agricultural and Rural History Section and its predecessor agencies. A copy of the original outline is filed in the first folder of each subseries.

These outlines cover the same general topics in each period; for instance, there are sections on "Commodities," "Distribution," "International Aspects of Agriculture," and "Administration of the USDA" in each of the subseries. However, the outlines vary among the several subseries because the approach to covering certain topics changed over time. Also, some of the outlines covered topics that were only important during particular periods, such as programs of the New Deal in subseries 1 (1914-1939), or wartime food rationing in subseries 2 (1939-1949).

Each outline is structured into major sections denoted by roman numerals; there are between 10 and 16 sections in each subseries (see Table 1). Within each section, subtopics are noted with capital letters, then arabic numbers, lower case letters, followed by numbers and letters in parentheses. The numbers for some subdivisions are quite complex, for example, IX B8c(1)(a). The earlier outline schemes tend to be more complex than the later ones.

The outlines were conceived as the basis for a history of the USDA during the time periods covered. Apparently, ARH staff set up folders labeled with the outline headings before any materials were actually collected.

As materials were accumulated and filed, it often happened that no materials were collected for some of the prepared headings. As a result, a number of empty folders were found during processing in which no material had ever been filed. These empty folders were discarded and the outline numbers that they represented were dropped from the final folder list. Researchers should be aware that gaps in the container lists, where numbers seem to be missing, are the result of these empty folders.

Table 1 below diagrams the basic structure of the classifications schemes for the six subseries. It highlights the major sections within each outline, denoted by roman numerals. Note that topics that recur in several subseries may be classified under different numerals in different subseries. Thus, in the first three subseries, the section on Commodities is numeral V, in the fourth subseries it's numeral XIV, and it's XII in the last two subseries.

Table 1. Series I: Documentary Files.

Main sections

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#Subseries 1
Subseries 2
Subseries 3
Subseries 4
Subseries 5
Subseries 6
I Agriculture & government programs through WW I (1914-1919) Interwar Agricultural distress and measures to combat it Background -- conditions in agriculture pre-WWII to Pearl Harbor Economic conditions Economic conditions Economic conditions
II Plans & programs, 1920-1933 The US at war, 1941-1945 The US at war, 1941-1945 Purchases for domestic use Consumers and nutrition Consumers and nutrition
III Production plan plans & programs, 1933-1939 Policies to achieve production Policies to achieve production Production Production changes and trends Production changes and trends
IV Ever-normal granary, price support, crop insurance Integration of production & price policies Integration of production & price policies Price programs Government economic assistance programs Government price & income support programs
V Commodities Special commodities problems Commodities Land use and resource conservation Resources and environment Resources and environment
VI Distribution Distribution Distribution Surpluses & surplus mgmt. Research Research
VII International aspects Fostering Western Hemispheric Integration International aspects Emergency relief and disaster Biography Biography
VIII Farm life and govt. programs Farm and rural community life Changes in farm life Marketing & distribution Marketing & distribution Marketing & distribution
IX Administration Administration Administration International aspects International aspects International aspects
X Land use & resource conservation Special War Services of USDA Technological Invention & Acceleration Changes in farm life Farm and rural living Farm and rural living
XI Technological Invention & Acceleration Recommendations & special studies Administration Administration Administration
XII Postwar Adjustments Research Commodities Commodities
XIII Credit and crop insurance Rural development Rural development
XIV Commodities
XV Rural Areas Development
XVI Defense

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