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Leo M. Christensen papers

Identifier: 00174

Scope and Contents

I. PERSONAL MATERIALS. 0.5 cubic feet

Materials largely from Leo Christensen’s high school and college days. Includes commencement programs, college handbook, banquet and event programs, report cards, papers, valentines, Christmas cards, fraternal/honorary organizational materials, as well as the wedding invitation to Eva (Patterson) and Leo Christensen’s wedding.

Arranged largely chronologically.

II. CORRESPONDENCE. 4.0 cubic feet

This series is broken down into two subgroups: personal and professional. Personal correspondence runs 1918-1939, 1950-1959, n.d. The majority of the personal correspondence contains the courtship letters between Eva and Leo while she taught graded school in Nebraska while he pursued further education in Iowa. Their correspondence continues through their early years of marriage and the birth of children while Leo traveled on work-related concerns. Other personal correspondence involves various extended family members and college friends of Leo. Professional correspondence deals solely with Leo’s Chemurgic consulting and investment interests. It spans 1940-1955, 1959.

Both the personal and professional subgroups are arranged first alphabetically by correspondent, then chronologically.

III. NOTEBOOKS. 3.5 cubic feet

Research notebooks of Christensen. The dates of the materials found span from his college years through the twilight of his career. The majority of the work centers on 1920-1940. Topics cover a wide range of chemurgic subjects, but emphasis is given to the topics of alcohol and fermentation. Due to the deteriorated state, some of the materials have been removed from their original notebooks.

Arranged alphabetically.


Articles and excerpts of larger works on various chemurgic subject areas. The series is further divided into the following subject areas: Agricultural crops; Agricultural Products and Processing Operations; Alcohol-Gasoline; Chemical Uses of Agricultural Products; Chemistry and Chemical Engineering; Christensen, Leo; Congressional Hearings; Enzymatic Processes; Fermentation Processes; General; Industrial Plant Design; Industrial Alcohol; Memorandum; Microorganisms; Synthetic Rubber.

The subgroup “Christensen, Leo,” contains publications where he was the sole or principal author. Other materials within various subgroups in the series may contain materials written by Christensen as a secondary author or researcher. All subgroup materials were collected to aid in Christensen’s own work, with the dominant subject area being alcohol-gasoline.

Arranged alphabetically by subgroup then alphabetically by publication title within each subgroup.

V. PATENT MATERIALS. 3.0 cubic feet

A collection of summaries, applications, forms, correspondence and other related materials for patents held in fields and processes in relation to activity within the Chemurgic movement. Some of the materials relate to patents applied for, rejected and held by Christensen in both his individual research and commercial consulting work. Christensen collected patent materials for many processes held by researchers world-wide.

Arranged alphabetically.

VI. REPORTS. 0.5 cubic feet

Miscellaneous published and unpublished reports on various Chemurgic subjects, including farm industrial companies with which Christensen had an interest.

Arranged alphabetically.


Various drafts of materials authored by Christensen, dated in the late 1940s.

Arranged alphabetically.

VIII. GENERAL SUBJECTS. 2.0 cubic feet

Files of materials not identified by content for placement in other series. Subjects vary and relate to subjects within other series, sometimes abstractly. Of interest is a 13 folder set of congressional hearings materials on industrial alcohol and synthetic rubber. Collection of theses by other students of chemurgy is noteworthy.

Arranged alphabetically by folder title.

IX. [MISCELLANEOUS]. 0.25 cubic feet

An artificial series created by the archivist to place stray and loose materials not readily identifiable with other series materials.

Arranged alphabetically.


A notebook containing the business function of the Farm Crops Processing Co., an enterprise in which Christensen had an interest. Due to the deteriorated condition of the notebook, the materials have been removed and placed into five consecutive folders maintaining the original order of the notebook as it came to the archives.


Photographic images of Christensen, his wife, his children, his cats, and unidentified individuals.


  • Creation: 1837 - 1972
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1864 - 1880


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

Leo M. Christensen was born November 5, 1898 in Dow City, Iowa. His father was a Danish immigrant who fled to Nebraska to avoid conscription. Christensen's mother was a Dow City native, but had moved to Nebraska with her family's ranching operations. Though Leo was born in Iowa, the Christensen Family moved permanently to Kearney, Nebraska when he was nine years of age. In Kearney, Leo's father ran the shop at the local Boy's Reformatory, where his mother was the chief of the kitchen. Leo Christensen was employed in a drug store while attending Kearney High School, and stayed on briefly after graduating in 1917. After this he served briefly (less than a year) in the Army during World War I, but did not serve overseas.

Against his parents' wishes, Leo started at Iowa State College in 1918 where he received a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1923. He pursued his Ph.D. at Iowa State at Ames, receiving the degree in chemistry with a minor in bacteriology in 1926. He studied for this degree under Ellis Fulmer.

Leo Christensen married Eva Patterson on June 8, 1926. The Patterson family owned a farm near the Boy's Reformatory in Kearney, so Eva and Leo grew up together, meeting on the horse drawn school wagon.

In 1926, Christensen took a position as a biochemist for the Commercial Solvents Corporation of Terre Haute, Indiana. There his work was predominately experimental and focused on developing and refining methods to produce solvents by fermentation. His position was terminated with the closing of the plant at the beginning of the Depression in 1930. From 1931 to 1935 Christensen was on the chemistry faculty at Iowa State, resigning that position to become the Western Representative of the Chemical Foundation (later named the Chemical Foundation of Kansas). Sometime in 1936, Christensen moved within the company to become vice president and general manager of the Atchison Agrol Co., a subsidiary of the Chemical Foundation. In 1937, he is noted to have possibly been the secretary-treasurer of the Chemical Foundation as well as the director of a project at Atchinson, developing the "mold-bran method" for fermenting alcohol, and the production of commercial alcohol from farm products.

In December 1938, Christensen resigned from what had become the National Agrol Association and moved his family from Kansas to a home in Nebraska that Eva had purchased from her great grandmother. Eva and their three children - James, Martha, and Richard - lived there for two years.

Christensen chaired the Department of Agricultural Chemistry at the University of Idaho from 1939 to 1941 where he had hoped to revive the chemurgic movement, but was unsuccessful. In the winter of 1941, he returned to Nebraska to head the Department of Chemurgy at the University of Nebraska. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents appointed him research executive for the chemurgy project established and funded by recent action of the state legislature (see copy of Leg. Bill No. 462/Gilette Bill in papers). In 1945, he resigned in protest when the Board of Regents cut from the project's operating budget amounts Christensen considered essential to the continuation of his work. Specifically, he desired to build a small pilot plant for the processing of safflower, sesame, castor, and perilla in order to continue economic research gathered in the past four years' study of oil seeds. His resignation caused quite a stir in Nebraska, as well across the region, specifically in regards to the chemurgic movement.

During this time he helped to establish a safflower processing company at Morrill, Nevada, was vice-president of a Colorado solvents firm, and did consulting work at an Omaha alcohol plant and for the Farm Crops Processing Corp. In January 1945, he became a full-time consultant to the Farm Crops Processing Corp. According to James Christensen, his father made "a considerable amount of money" on war-time alcohol production and invested a large amount in the Gateway Co., a chemurgic company in Lincoln. Until 1951 Christensen was involved in numerous chemurgic projects and industries, holding numerous titles including director and vice president, Gateway Co., Red Cloud and Omaha, Nebraska; director and vice president Amboy Prod. Co., Red Cloud, Nebraska; director of the National Agrol Co. of Detroit, Michigan; and, director and vice president of Western Solvents Corp. in Longmont, Colorado. In 1951, the Gateway Company folded and Christensen was unemployed.

On April 30, 1952, Christensen was appointed the executive director of the Committee of 52 (which became the Omaha Industrial Foundation in 1954). This group was established to cooperate with other agencies in promoting the development and advancement of industrial economy in the Omaha area. In its first year of work the organization developed a planned industrial district southwest of Omaha and located $20 million of new factories in the district. Christensen allowed his post as director to expire on December 31, 1954, publicly stating a desire to resume a private engineering practice. After leaving, however, Christensen suffered from depression and found it difficult to continue his work. He died at the age of 56, on February 10, 1955, of a heart ailment in Kearney, near his farm in Miller, Nebraska.

Leo M. Christensen was, by profession and personal passion, a chemurgist. A chemurgist is a practitioner of chemurgy, or, a branch of chemistry that deals with the industrial application of organic raw materials - particularly those from farm products. William J. Hale (see collection 176) used the term "chemurgist" in the beginning of his 1934 text Farm Chemurgic, to describe the use and potential benefit from the use of organic materials - notably farm and agricultural products - for industrial applications. It was not considered by many scientific professionals of the day to be a standard term for describing industrial chemistry from organic matter. By the late 1960s, "biochemical engineering" replaced "chemurgy" as the label used to describe natural product chemistry with industrial applications.

*This brief biography was written largely with the assistance and research materials of David Wright and was supplemented by information gleaned from the scrapbooks of newsclippings found in this collection.


21 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Organization of the Papers

This collection is organized into 11 series

Missing Title

  1. I. Personal Materials
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Notebooks
  4. IV. Published Materials
  5. V. Patent Materials
  6. VI. Reports
  7. VII. Manuscripts and Draft Manuscripts
  8. VIII. General Subjects
  9. IX. [Miscellaneous]
  10. X. Farm Crops Processing. Co.
  11. XI. Audio-Visual Materials

Related Archival Materials

See also William J. Hale papers, 1906-1959 (00176) at University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

See also Farm Chemurgic Council records, 1909-1983 (00177) at University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

Legal Status

Copyright: Michigan State University. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Leo M. Christensen Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
J. Mazak
June 2001
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US