Soil Stewardship -- Franklin Hiram King

“Soil erosion is as old as agriculture. It began when the first heavy rain struck the first furrow turned by a crude implement of tillage in the hands of prehistoric man. It has been going on ever since, wherever man’s culture of the earth has bared the soil to rain and wind.” — Albert Howard

blanket of bay leaves

Franklin Hiram King – Pioneer Scientist

fh_king1893Born in 1848 on a farm near Whitewater, WI, F.H. King received his professional training first at Whitewater State Normal School and later at Cornell University. His scientific contributions were largely made within his native state as professor of natural science at River Falls State Normal School (1878-1888) and professor of agricultural physics at the University of Wisconsin (1888-1902). Interested in a wide range of subject matter throughout his career, King made his major contributions during his years in Madison in research and teaching that dealt with any and all applications of physics to agriculture. Most attention was given to soil physics, e.g., he studied water-holding capacities, moisture requirements of plants, aeration, movement of water in soils, movement of groundwater, and the drafts of plows. During his last years in Madison he also began studies of soil fertility. An unpleasant part of his career followed when King left Wisconsin to become chief of the Division of Soil Management in the USDA Bureau of Soils in Washington, DC (January 1902). His findings in the next 2 yr began to undermine beliefs held strongly by Milton Whitney, chief of the bureau, about the relations of soil chemistry to plant growth. At the insistence of Whitney, King resigned and returned to Madison, where he devoted the last 7 yr of his life to summarizing earlier findings and conducting further research in agricultural physics, e.g., the ventilation of farm buildings. Three of his seven books were written during that period, the best known of which is Farmers of Forty Centuries.

The Pioneering Activities of F.H. King were not restricted to soil science, although the impact of his career was greatest in that field. He has been called the father of soil physics in the USA (Baver, 1948, p. 7). At the same
time, his interests were broad enough for him to make contributions to other fields of knowledge as well. Given his combination of interests and his ability to follow them, King built a distinguished career. How he proceeded and what he
accomplished are reported here. His personal history illustrates what goes into the making of a scientist.

Early Life and Education

King was born on a farm at La Grange, near Whitewater, WI, on 8 June 1848, where he also spent his early years and attended country schools.

After completing elementary school, King entered Whitewater State Normal School at Whitewater, WI, from which he graduated in 1872. His strong interests as a naturalist were already evident. He remained at the normal school an extra
year to continue his studies under the direction of Thomas C. Chamberlin, who later became an eminent geologist as well as president of the University of Wisconsin. King continued his education on two later occasions but it was
postponed for a time in favor of a job.

First Jobs

As his first job, King taught science courses at the high school in Berlin, WI, where he stayed for 3 yr. During the summers he carried on additional projects. In 1874 and 1875 he developed and published “a scheme for plant analysis,” later incorporated into the Ward botanical textbook series. During the summer of 1876 he worked in northern Wisconsin for the U.S. Geological Survey, most likely in studies of glacial deposits.

Leaving Berlin in the fall of 1876, King went to Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, and studied physics, chemistry, geology, and biology for the next 2 yr. The subjects studied reflect his broad range of interests, also expressed in other activities. King worked as an assistant to an ornithologist at Cornell University, who was then studying the diets of birds. King analyzed the contents of the stomachs of >2000 birds to determine what they were eating. This interest in birds was to reappear later.

King left Cornell University in the fall of 1878 to become professor of natural science at River Falls State Normal School in River Falls, WI. He held that job for 10 yr, leaving eventually for the one at the University of Wisconsin from which he became well known. At River Falls, King continued ornithological studies. His published results were later considered pioneering investigations in economic ornithology (Schorger, 1945). In 1880 King was married to Carrie Baker of Berlin, WI. Later in life he credited much of his scientific success to the interest and help of his wife. During the summer of 1880, King studied briefly at the seaside laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in North Carolina. His interest in geology also persisted; King worked for the U.S. Geological Survey again during the summer of 1884, this
time in the study of terminal moraines in North Dakota. While at River Falls, King and his wife devised a method for making maps and relief models mechanically. Such models were prepared of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Yellowstone Park, and the world according to the Mercator projection. Copies were sold to a number of schools, including Harvard University, for use in teaching meteorology and physiography. Given their subsequent history, the Kings were doubtless engaged in additional activities. Records are not available, however, because those of the normal school were lost in a fire in 1897.

The University Years

King was appointed professor of agricultural physics at the University of Wisconsin in 1888. At that time Thomas C. Chamberlin, the geologist with whom King had spent a year of study at Whitewater, was president of the University.
W.A. Henry was Dean of the College of Agriculture, the first person to hold that post. The professorship to which King was appointed was the first of its kind in the USA. Other firsts were to follow from the program carried out by the new professor of agricultural physics. A Department of Farm Engineering was established in 1904, later renamed the Department of Agricultural Engineering.The Department of Soil Science was formally set up in 1905, the first in the
country (Russell, 1941), although the teaching of soil physics began in 1889. The state soil survey was established in 1909 (Russell, 1941; Beatty, 1991, p.8).

As a faculty member of a land grant institution, King taught several courses and conducted research on various problems relating to agriculture. He offered one of the first courses in agricultural meteorology in the USA. Furthermore,
he initially taught all other courses involving physics in agriculture, such as
farm engineering and soil physics. The teaching of these courses passed to
others when King resigned from the university in 1901 to join the staff of the
Bureau of Soils in Washington, DC. For example, J.A. Jeffries joined the
university staff in 1902 to teach agricultural meteorology.

Much the largest share of King’s research was focused on soil and crop
management, with a large part of it in soil physics. That research will be
considered below, but investigations in fields other than soils will be
mentioned first. As one example, the rapid adoption of the cylindrical silo was
due largely to research by King that demonstrated such structures were not only
stronger than other forms but also reduced spoilage. He invented a ventilation
system for farm and rural school buildings that was used into the 1930s. He
studied the efficiency of farm machinery and the draft of farm implements. He
investigated soil mechanics and the construction of rural roads. King conducted
the first year-long study of the power generated by farm windmills. He
experimented with both heaters and irrigation in efforts to reduce frost damage
to orchards. He also measured the effects of slope gradient and aspect on the
temperatures of fruit tree trunks.

Despite the wide range of his research, King spent
most of his time and energy in the study of soils. The preponderance of soil
studies is evident in Table 1, which also
shows King’s continuing attention to other subjects as those were recorded in
the annual reports of the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station from 1889
to 1901. The range of subject matter studied demonstrates that Professor King
was the complete agricultural physicist.

King changed emphasis in his research program as the years passed. At first,
most of the studies were focused on soil water, followed by tillage and seedbed
preparation. Later, more attention was given to soil fertility. Thus, King
recruited A.R. Whitson in 1899 to help with studies of soil fertility.

The nature of research in progress is given in the annual reports of the
Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station in Table 1. As shown in the table,
much of the research was on water requirements (water use efficiency) of crops,
on the capacities of soils to supply water to plants, and on irrigation.
Combining lysimeters in the field and greenhouse with soil sampling, King
measured evapotranspiration for several crops to determine water consumption
per unit of yield. His findings on the effects of soil fertility and drought on
evapotranspiration were substantially correct. During those studies, King
invented a sampling tube, known for some time as the King tube. Modified
slightly, it is now known as the Veihmeyer tube.

King found that substantial increases in yield followed irrigation,
especially on the sandy soils in central Wisconsin. Consequently, he became an
early advocate of supplemental irrigation in humid regions. Because of his
interests in irrigation, King went to Europe in the summer of 1895 and traveled
in the western USA in the summer of 1896 to study irrigation practices. Both
trips were made at his own expense (Anonymous, 1901). The demonstrated interest
in irrigation and the results of his investigations prompted the USDA to grant
King $1200 to support further studies for a period of 2 yr. One-half of the
grant went to increasing his salary by $300 per year. King made a special
effort to identify critical periods in crop growth and to determine the optimum
timing and amounts of irrigation.

Studying water losses from soils, King found that shading of the soil by
early foliage development was beneficial. It reduced water loss from the soil
surface He also tried mulching and fallowing to conserve water. King
overestimated the effects of “earth mulching” because most of his
experiments were conducted on soils with shallow water tables. On the other
hand, his estimate that about one-fifth of the water used by well-managed
crops, and even more under poorly managed crops, was lost from the soil surface
has stood the test of time in the humid region.

King examined the root systems of many plants because of his interest in
water use and the nutrition of crops. For that purpose he developed methods for
excavating whole root systems and then washing them free of soil materials.
Among other things, he devised a frame to hold the roots in place during the

As part of his investigations of water relations, King studied percolation;
drainage; and the redistribution, retention, and capillary rise of water in
soils in the field and in laboratory specimens. In his field experiments, he
found that capillary flow upward into the root zone during the growing season
could provide at least 4 cm of water to a crop. In laboratory studies, he used
monoliths 30 cm long and 150 cm in diameter or columns of packed soil material
in glass tubes, some as long as 3 m. Some of the experiments in the laboratory
were continued for 2 yr. King was puzzled to learn that drainage from long
columns would stop for a while and then start again later. He found upward
redistribution during some intervals but could not decide whether that was due
to “internal evaporation” or liquid flow.

King noticed, in his laboratory experiments, that the particle-size
distribution of the soil materials in the glass columns affected the rate of
water flow. That finding prompted interest on the part of Charles E. Slichter
in hydrology (Ingraham, 1972, p. 52), which, in turn, led to a landmark article
on the theory of groundwater movement (Slichter, 1898), published with a
companion article by King (1898). Because of the two articles, the U.S.
Geological Survey made grants of $500 to each man to continue the
investigations (Anonymous, 1901).

As part of his efforts to understand the storage and movement of water in
soil, King studied water table contours in relation to topography, cropping
history, transpiration, tile or ditch drainage systems, and wells. He even had
a well with recording equipment in the basement of his home. A study of the
water table at Whitewater, WI, funded by a grant of $500 from the Weather
Bureau, is recorded in the ninth annual report of the Wisconsin Agricultural
Experiment Station. As a result of his own investigations and his collaboration
with Slichter, King believed that the movement of groundwater over short
distances was amenable to calculation. On the other hand, movement over long
distances could not be calculated because of the dependence of flow on fissures
and other channels. That pessimism was justified; estimating the water flow
through macropores remains a major problem.

King also studied the permeability of soil to air, related as it was to both
the porosity of soils and the storage and movement of water. While conceding
that the exchange of air between soil and atmosphere by the slow process of
molecular diffusion must be considerable because it was continuous, King
thought that convection induced by pressure and temperature changes was more
important because of the ready flow of air through shrinkage cracks, former
root channels, animal burrows, and large pores. Evidence for this belief
consisted of (i) changes in discharges in wells, field drains, and springs that
would follow pressure changes in < 20 min, and (ii) the
“breathing” of wells and drains. King further believed that
horizontal pressure differences at the soil surface due to wind flowing around
obstacles could be more important to air exchange than any other factor and
that the penetration and withdrawal of air because of fluctuating pressures due
to gusty winds were second in importance (King, 1901).

Table 1 shows that King investigated the effects of various kinds of tillage
on seedbed preparation and on crop yields. He also conducted experiments in
subsoiling to see whether that would increase yields.

In his studies of sandy soils, King noted their susceptibility to wind
erosion. For control of such erosion, he recommended stripcropping and
windbreaks. These recommendations applied especially to the sandy plain in the
central part of the state.

In 1895 to 1896, King learned from some fertilizer trials that K carriers
increased yields appreciably on muck soils, whereas N and P carriers had little
effect. Those results sparked King’s interest in soil fertility. He
consequently undertook studies of the relationships between levels of
water-soluble nutrients in mineral soils and crop yields. Such studies were
made on soils that had received additions of mineral fertilizers or animal
manures and on soils that had not been treated in any way. Those investigations
had been completed for few soils before King resigned from the university to
take a job with the USDA Bureau of Soils in Washington, DC.


The Bureau Stay


King began working for the Bureau of Soils in January 1902, but his career
with the organization was shortlived (Gardner, 1977). Because of a professional
disagreement, King was asked by Milton Whitney, chief of the bureau, to resign
in January 1904. Consequently, King was once more in Madison, WI, in July 1904.
The disagreement followed from the results obtained by King in studies of soil

King was hired to take charge of investigations of soil climatology already
in progress (Whitney, 1901). Those investigations were to be part of the
responsibility of a newly formed Division of Soil Management (Whitney, 1902),
with King in charge. In his normal fashion, King undertook to investigate
several questions.

He was able to give more attention to soil aeration than he had in the past.
To permit more research than he could perform himself, he recruited E.
Buckingham, who was an instructor in physics at the University of Wisconsin
from September 1901 to May 1902, at which time he resigned to work for the
Bureau of Soils. We have found no evidence that King and Buckingham were
acquainted while both were on the campus in Madison the latter part of 1901.
Chances are that they were, however because King hired Buckingham within a few
months after reporting for work himself.

The results of a study of aeration were reported in a bulletin published by
the Bureau of Soils soon after King resigned (Buckingham, 1904). Some of the
conclusions drawn in the bulletin were later challenged by King (1905a).
Although King underrated the importance of diffusion in gas exchange between
the atmosphere and soil, Buckingham underrated convection except in very deep
soils. He completely overlooked the effects of winds. The
“transpiration” of air believed by King to be the most important
mechanism is still recognized as a major factor, along with forces of buoyancy,
for mulches with large pores and may account for as much as one-fifth of the
gas exchange at the surface of a coarse soil. Gas exchange due to wind-induced
lateral pressure changes has not yet been investigated adequately.

King initiated studies of levels of plant nutrients in soil solutions and
their relationships to the composition of plants and to crop yields during his
first year on the bureau staff. He was able to extend those to a larger
universe than a single state. King made chemical analyses of both soils and
plants as part of his research. These included total analyses of soil samples
plus analyses of soil solutions, plant sap, and entire plants. Moreover, these
analyses were made of specimens from plots on good soils, plots on poor soils,
plots that had received mineral fertilizers, plots that had received animal
manures, and plots without any treatment. Before coming to work for the Bureau
of Soils, King had learned that the amounts of nutrients in solutions drawn
from soils were much smaller than suggested by total chemical analysis of soil
samples. At the same time, the concentrations of nutrient elements in solution
were correlated with crop yields. These relations prevailed in the data King
collected for the bureau.

The results of the investigations by King during the first 2 yr (1902 and
1903) were summarized in six manuscripts submitted for publication as bulletins
of the Bureau of Soils. As chief of the bureau, Whitney approved publication of
three manuscripts without his endorsement and rejected the other three
(Gardner, 1977; King, 1905b). The data and conclusions in those three
manuscripts raised serious questions about ideas strongly held by Whitney about
soil properties and their productivity.

The conclusions in King’s manuscripts were also in conflict with those
expressed in a previously published bulletin by Whitney and Cameron (1903).
Although not the first time the ideas had been offered, the 1903 bulletin
provided a more complete and elaborate statement than any earlier publication.
The prime argument in the bulletin was that the chemistry of soils is of little
or no importance to crop production. Major views expressed in the bulletin can
be summarized as follows: (i) the concentration of plant nutrients in the soil
solution is the same in productive and unproductive soils, (ii) that
concentration is maintained by natural processes, (iii) all soils suitable for
crop production contain enough nutrients for satisfactory plant growth, and
(iv) the supply will last indefinitely. Jenny (1961) reported that King had
been included as an author of the bulletin at some stage but had had his name
withdrawn. Many of the data on which the bulletin was based had been collected
by King, but his interpretations of their meaning differed sharply from the
ones drawn by Whitney and Cameron (1903).

Whitney had developed his ideas about the relative importance of chemical
and physical properties of soils while working for the Maryland Agricultural
Experiment Station, where he gave nearly all of his attention to the soils
between Chesapeake Bay and the Appalachian Mountains (Whitney, 1893). The gross
chemical composition of surface layers of the soils was much the same, as
determined by the methods of that day. Yet there were appreciable differences
in suitabilities of the soils for crops and in yields. Whitney thus concluded
that differences in properties other than chemical composition governed
productivity. Looking for other factors, he concluded that moisture and
temperature were the controls. He also decided that the best available index to
conditions of moisture and temperature was texture. Thus the conclusions
reached by Whitney 10 yr earlier were repeated with little change in 1903.

Strong objections were elicited immediately to the ideas offered by Whitney
and Cameron (1903). Examples are the papers by Hilgard (1904a) and Hopkins
(1904) presented at the annual meetings of the Association of Agricultural
Colleges and Experiment Stations in 1903. Ideas expressed in the bulletin were
also ridiculed in a paper by Russell (1905) published in England after he had
visited the USA. Six pages of Russell’s paper are given to a review of the
bulletin, with the conclusion that it offers a strange doctrine indeed in the
face of existing evidence.

The vigorous objections of Hilgard, Hopkins, and others to Whitney and
Cameron (1903) made little or no impression on Whitney. Because of his
disagreement with King, Whitney asked him to resign. King left the Bureau in
January 1904, only 2 yr after having joined the staff.


Return to Wisconsin


King brought with him to Wisconsin the three manuscripts rejected by
Whitney. He soon had the manuscripts ready and published them privately after
obtaining the approval of the Secretary of Agriculture (King, 1904).

Back in Madison, King did not publicly continue his controversy with Whitney
except for a pair of items. One consisted of comments (King, 1905a) on the
report about aeration by Buckingham (1904). One paragraph in those comments is
centered on the disagreement with Whitney. A second public item consisted of a
letter about plant nutrients in soils (King, 1905c).

Whitney somewhat revised the ideas expressed in Whitney and Cameron (1903),
proposing that animal and green manures and mineral fertilizers were beneficial
because they offset toxic substances excreted by plant roots in the soil
(Whitney, 1906). To those ideas, King published a rebuttal (King, 1908a).

After publishing the three manuscripts brought with him from Washington,
King turned to other activities. A major project between 1904 and 1908 was
writing his book on soil management (King, 1914), but he did not live to see it
published. His wife, Carrie Baker King, arranged for publication of the book
after his death in 1911. [Mrs. King outlived her husband 46 yr, reaching the
age of 100 before she died in 1957. The Kings had six children: Anna, Max,
Clarence, Hugh, Ralph, and Howard. Hugh died in infancy and Max in 1955.
Howard, youngest of the children, furnished information about his father’s
career, and the help was greatly appreciated.]

A second major project during those 4 yr was the preparation and publication
of a book on ventilation of farm buildings and rural schools (King, 1908b). The
studies on which the book was based were started after 1901 and largely
completed by 1905.

Additional activities consisted of writing articles for farm magazines and
newspapers, some consulting on agricultural problems, and some travel. These
filled the chinks of time between major projects.

Using cash obtained from his life insurance policies (Howard King, 1986,
personal communication), King traveled in Japan, Korea and China for about 9 mo
in 1909. His purpose was to learn how agriculture had been maintained
successfully in those countries for several thousand years. Following his
return, King prepared an account of his observations in his best-known book,
Farmers of Forty Centuries (King, 1911 a). On the day of his death, 4
Aug. 1911, he made the final arrangements for publication of his book even
though it still lacked the final chapter. Mrs. King assembled materials for
that chapter and saw the manuscript through publication, as she also did the
book on soil management (King, 1914). Many years later, Albert Ravenholt of the
American Universities Field Staff wrote that study of the book by King
“remains the best preparation for understanding the economic foundations
of the civilizations of Japan, Korea, and China” (Ravenholt, 1978).

Early in 1911, Thomas C. Chamberlin, then a prominent geologist at the
University of Chicago, published a paper on soil productivity that he had first
presented to the Geological Club at the University (Chamberlin, 1911).
Chamberlin relied heavily on the information in Whitney and Cameron (1903),
joining them in arguing that there were “efficient natural processes for
the maintenance of soils.” Barring erosion, soils would be productive
indefinitely. Moreover, productivity could be enhanced if manures, including
human wastes, were added to soils. Chamberlin also argued that the thin water
films around soil particles served to dissolve nutrient elements because of
their great areas of contact. Furthermore, upward capillary movement of water
carried far more K and P than was lost in leaching. Finally, adequate supplies
of N could be provided by the growing of legumes. In support of those
statements, Chamberlin cited areas in western China where soil productivity had
been maintained for centuries at levels higher than those of virgin soils in
the USA. Maintenance was due, in part, to the addition of human wastes to the
soil. As further support for his views, Chamberlin pointed out that soil
productivity had increased in Europe during the last two decades and in the USA
for the last four without the applications of human wastes practiced in China.

After the Chamberlin paper appeared, E.W. Hilgard of California proposed to
King that he publish a reply because he had so recently visited China. If King
would not reply to Chamberlin, Hilgard would do so, in rather unkind fashion
(Howard King, 1986, personal communication). King was reluctant to take issue
with Chamberlin because of their long and friendly association. After more
urging by Hilgard, however, King published a rebuttal to the views expressed bv
Chamberlin (King, 1911b). King showed that upward capillary movement of water
would not sustain soil productivity. Moreover, the practices in China cited by
Chamberlin actually included more than the addition of human wastes to soil.
Farmers also added plant nutrients obtained from outside their own lands. The
recent increases in productivity in Europe and the USA coincided with increases
in the use of fertilizers combined with improvement in other management
practices. The response to Chamberlin was the last publication by King other
than the two books published posthumously. His work thus ended on a note that
pervaded his entire career, namely, to keep the facts straight and spread them
as widely as possible.


Spreading Knowledge


King tried at all times to transmit to others what he had learned through
his own studies. For that purpose, he followed two approaches. One was his
teaching at Berlin High School, River Falls State Normal School, and the
University of Wisconsin. The second approach was through publications of
various kinds. His teaching career has been described above. The publications
will be discussed here.

During his career, King completed seven books, five of which were published
during his lifetime and two after his death. The titles of the books are listed
below in the sequence in which they were published:

1894. Elementary lessons in physics of agriculture. F.H. King,
Madison, WI.

1895. The soil: Its nature, relations and fundamental principles of
Macmillan, New York.

1898. Irrigation and drainage. Macmillan, New York.

1901. Physics of agriculture. F.H. King, Madison, WI.

1908. Ventilation for dwellings, rural schools and stables. F.H.
King, Madison, WI

1911. Farmers of forty centuries. F.H. King, Madison, WI.

1914. Soil management. Orange-Judd, New York.

The books represent major publications but only a part of the total
completed by King during his career. His research findings were published in
bulletins and scientific journals. Most of the bulletins were issued by the
Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station, but some were published by the
Bureau of Soils and some by King himself. Scientific papers were published in
various journals. All told, the individual publications in bulletins and
journals total > 100. The purpose of these publications was to transmit
research findings to other scientists.

King wished at all times to transmit information about soils to the public
at large, especially to farmers. To that end, one effort that continued
throughout his professional life was contributing articles to farm magazines
and newspapers. All told, King published slightly more than 130 articles in
those media. The purpose of all such publishing was to spread available
knowledge as widely as possible.




Knowledge accumulated about soils over the years has demonstrated the value
of King’s contributions. Examples of the validity of his ideas have been
offered above. Unfortunately, King did not live long enough to see his ideas on
soil–crop relations persist while those of Whitney were being discarded. On
the other hand, King was regarded as an eminent scientist during his lifetime.
Moreover, his reputation has not faded with the passing of time.

E.W. Hilgard, in his denunciation of Whitney and defense of King, wrote as
follows (Hilgard, 1904b):

Both American and European scientists have been accustomed for
many years to regard with confidence and respect the work and publications of
the man upon whom, by common consent, the mantle of Wollny has fallen since the
death of the soil physicist of Germany.

Later, in an obituary for King, C.G. Hopkins of Illinois made the following
statement (Hopkins, 1911):

There were Johnson and Kedzie and Babcock and Hilgard, all
eminent men who helped to lay the foundation walls of our agricultural
chemistry, upon whose superstructure a thousand of us common laborers are now
at work; but when the science of soil physics is mentioned, we think first of
F.H. King, for he laid that foundation, and for many more years he was also the
master workman upon that superstructure; yea, more–he developed methods of
work and fashioned tools for the workmen; and he worked not only in
agricultural physics, but he knew more of chemistry than most chemists.

Recognition has come in various forms. King was awarded the honorary degree
of Doctor of Science by the University of Wisconsin in 1910. He was the first
person to receive an award from the Grant Squires Fund of the National
Geographic Society for his studies of oriental agriculture. King was a member
of the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science; the Washing ton
Philosophical Society; and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and
Letters. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science. These awards and memberships reflect both interests and distinctions.

Sometime later, a further tribute was paid to King by Chamberlin, despite
the disagreement between the two over long-time soil productivity. Chamberlin
was asked to give the main address at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary
of the first graduating class of Whitewater State Normal School. In that
address, Chamberlin made the following statement: “I have a public apology
to make regarding my inability to judge human nature. I consider F.H. King to
be Whitewater’s greatest alumnus yet I once called him into my office on the
campus and said, ‘King, you’re wasting your time; go back and follow the
plow'” (Howard King, 1986, personal communication).

King’s standing has not diminished over the years. During a visit to the
University of Wisconsin in 1935, Sir John Russell, director of the Rothamsted
Experimental Station in Great Britain, told E.B. Fred, then dean of the
graduate school and later president of the university, that his reason for the
visit was to see where “America’s greatest and most famous soil physicist
carried out much of his work.” Sir John was referring to Franklin Hiram

Within the last 15 yr, Gardner (1977) has reviewed highlights in the history
of soil physics for the preceding 200 yr. He reviewed the work and
contributions of King as one of the pioneers and as a proponent of more
quantitative methods for characterization of water relations and physical
properties of soils.




An apt conclusion to this account of King’s career is provided by an
anecdote from E.B. Fred, who got the story from E.G. Hastings, professor of
bacteriology and a contemporary of King. When the latter was giving a lecture
on his travels, someone in the audience asked if King had taken much of his
information from papers published in the countries he had visited. King
replied, “Yes, I have copied from others and I have milked a thousand
cows, but the cheese is all mine!”




Anonymous. 1901. Franklin Hiram King. Wisc. Alumni Mag. November, p. 52-58.

Baver, L.D. 1948. Soil physics. 2nd ed. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Beatty, M.T. 1991. Soil science at the University of Wisconsin: A history of
the department, 1889-1989. Dep. of Soil Sci., Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison.

Buckingham, E. 1904. Contributions to our knowledge of the aeration of
soils. USDA Bur. Soils Bull. 25. U.S. Gov. Print. Office, Washington, DC.

Chamberlin, T.C. 1911. Soil productivity. Science (Washington, DC)

Gardner, W.H. 1977. Historical highlights in American soil physics,
1776-1976. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 41:221-229.

Hilgard, E.W. 1904a. Chemistry of soils as related to crop production-Bureau
of Soils Bull. 22. p. 117-121. In USDA Office Exp. Stn. Bull. 142. U-S.
Gov- Print. Office, Washington, DC.

Hilgard, E.W. 1904b. Soil management. Science (Washington, DC) 20:605-608.

Hopkins, C.G. 1904. The present status of soil investigation. p. 95-104.
In USDA Office Exp. Sm. Bull- 142. U.S. Gov. Print. Office,
Washington, DC.

Hopkins, C. G. 1911. Necrology. F.H. King. Wisc. Country Mag. 5:307.

Ingraham, M.H. 1972. Charles Sumner Slichter: The golden vector. Univ. of
Wisc. Press, Madison.

Jenny, H. 1961. E.W. Hilgard and the birth of modern soil science. Collana
Della Rivista “Agrochimica,” Pisa, Italy. p. 100-101.

King, F.H. 1898. Principles and conditions of the movement of ground water.
p. 59-294. In U.S. Geol. Surv. Annu. Rep. Part 2. U.S- Gov. Print. Office,
Washington, DC.

King, F.H. 1901. Physics of agriculture. F.H. King, Madison, Wi.

King, F.H. 1904. Investigations in soil management: E. Influence of farmyard
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Reprinted with permission from the Soil Science Society of America

C.B. Tanner (deceased), Dep. of Soil Science, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706; and R.W. Simonson, 4613 Beechwood Rd., College Park, MD
20740. Contribution sponsored by the Council on History, Soil Science Society
of America. Received 22 Jan. 1992. *Corresponding author.
Volume 57, no. 1, January-February 1993

Any use beyond “fair use” under provisions of the U.S. Copyright Law
of 1976 requires separate permission of the publisher, Soil Science Society of
America, Inc., 677 S. Segoe Road, Madison, WI 53711.

Converted to HTML format by Phillip Barak, UW-Madison, Jan 1999.

"When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can't eat money."
—Alanis Obomsawin
"The main characteristic of Nature's farming can therefore be summed up in a few words. Mother earth never attempts to farm without live stock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the processes of growth and the processes of decay balance one another; ample provision is made to maintain large reserves of fertility; the greatest care is taken to store the rainfall; both plants and animals are left to protect themselves against disease."
—Wendell Berry