The Bussey Institution was founded in 1871 as an undergraduate school of agriculture. Under the terms of a bequest from Benjamin Bussey it was established as a department of Harvard University to be devoted to the teaching of agriculture and allied subjects.
Although the donor was extremely farsighted in realizing the future importance of agriculture, he could not foresee the later development of many free state agricultural colleges and experiment stations. With these heavily endowed establishments, the Harvard School could not compete and it failed to maintain an important position either for teaching or for the investigation of important agricultural problems.
To restore its former prestige and usefulness under the new conditions, it was reorganized in 1908 as a graduate department for investigating fundamental problems underlying the application of biological principles to agriculture, and to train a limited number of advanced students for teaching and research along these lines. Thus it assumed a different role from that played by the state agricultural colleges and experiment stations and was given an opportunity to undertake work outside the scope of these institutions.
After reorganization, its staff consisted at first of four members, but these have been added to until there are now eight giving all or part of their time to the work.
Institution Handicapped by Lack of Funds
Although greatly handicapped through the lack of proper funds and equipment, the Bussey Institution has developed and is now carrying on research and teaching along a number of lines in subjects related, or subsidiary to agriculture, and more or less directly connected with material human welfare.
Every year it has enrolled from twelve to sixteen students who have been already well prepared, but who wish to fit themselves further for teaching or research. Under present conditions this is the maximum number that can be satisfactorily accommodated. Most of these men have received the regree of Doctor of Science or Master of Sciences upon the completion of their residence, and the Institution has thus trained a number of men have received the degree of Doctor investigators have enhanced materially the agricultural welfare of the country.
The present activities of the Institution are in the fields of economic entomology, the laws of hereditary and their application to animal and plant breeding, applied plant anatomy, economic botany, dendrology and silviculture, and during the course of twelve years it has published about five hundred contributions to knowledge in these subjects. While much of this work has dealt with matters of direct political concern like agriculture and medical entomology, animal and plant breeding, forestry, etc., a very considerable number of the contributions have dealt with underlying principles and matters of fundamental importance which must be extensively investigated before their satisfactory explanation can be undertaken. Some of these latter researches have already borne fruit in that they have been successfully applied to the solution of some of the intensely practical problems now demanding attention.
Help Meet Agricultural Problems
One of the most important problems now confronting the human race is the maintenance of agricultural production on a permanent basis and its extension in the future to keep pace with increases in population. Likewise the production of meat animals must be augmented, and as we approach the end of our land resources, only several generations separate us from a very acute and precarious situation, which has already developed in other more thickly populated part of the world. To meet this, the basic principles upon which the improvement of useful plants and animals depend, must be fully elucidated, and our cultivated crops must be protected against the hordes of insect pests which would ruin them if left to their own devices.
The function of the several departments of the Bussey Institute as now organized may be briefly outlines as follows, to which it may be added that both teaching and research are combined in each:
The Department of Economic Entomology is dealing with the problems of structural, agricultural and medical entomology, particularly those which give promise of ultimate applicability to the control or reduction of noxious insects as they affect food production, public health and forestry.
The Department of Animal Breeding is concerned with a study of the laws of heredity, upon an accurate knowledge of which must depend the successful improvement of the breeds of useful animals.
The Department of Plant Breeding is similarly engaged in a study of the principles of inheritance that may be applied to the successful improvement of plants, particularly those of agricultural value.
The Department of Applied Plant Anatomy is dealing with the structure and anatomy of plant tissues, as a knowledge of such matters is essential to the utilization for forest products and other plant materials.
The Department of Economic Botany is systematizing the knowledge pertaining to useful plants of all kinds and is thus directly contributing to agriculture and the arts dependent upon plant materials.
Problems of Forestry Taken Up
Dendrology are together aiding in solving problems relating to forestry. These concern very important and pressing needs at the present time in connection with the proper utilization and maintenance of forests.
It will thus be seen that while the activities of the Bussey Institute are primarily related to agriculture, divergent lines are included to some extent, on account of the fact that many of the associated sciences cannot be clearly separated from it, and particularly since the common meeting ground of different lines of endeavor is commonly a neglected field for investigation.
It is sincerely hoped by all of those at present connected with the Institution that it may in the near future be able to extend its field of usefulness through the acquisition of added facilities in the way of a larger staff and more adequate funds. At the present time, unfortunately, the size of the student body is necessarily more restricted than it should be, and many lines of investigation for which there is a crying need must be left untouched.
However the future may allow for such expansion, it can, I think, be truthfully said that some of the fond expectations of its founder have been realized by the Bussey Institution.