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Farm Chemurgic Council records

Identifier: 00177

Scope and Contents

I. Correspondence. 1.5 cu. ft. 1939, 1941, 1954 - 1966, 1970 - 1976, 1983, undated

The correspondence files mostly contain correspondence between Council Assistant to the President John Ticknor and numerous subscribers/council members. As is seen from the correspondence as well as the conference programs (see Conference Proceedings series) from the 1950s, the Chemurgic Council's offices were in New York during these years. Material in the Correspondence series, mostly communication with subscribers for 1973, 1974, and 1975, paints a picture of an organization operating hand-to-mouth. The day-to-day institutional presence was apparently limited to a skeleton regular staff, centering on Ticknor, perhaps one or two other people, and an elected President, who was not an employee of the Council. The collection contains only limited correspondence between Ticknor and the presidents. In addition to staff members and the president, there were individuals within the chemurgic community of interest who made up an expert consulting group to address questions directed to the Council. The collection includes a fair amount of correspondence between Ticknor and people contacting him with questions about potential viability of a particular crop for chemurgic purposes, or about past research already done on the potential chemurgic application for a crop. Such questions were referred to the expert panel, and in a couple cases the collection has copies of correspondence from the panel member, usually not very lengthy.

Ticknor's official correspondence was international in scope. Individuals and private or state enterprises, including research institutions and libraries, writing from Mexico, Canada, South America, India, Ceylon, Thailand, Europe and Australia made contact with the Council to ask about crops or regarding Council membership subscriptions and requests for copies of conference proceedings.

Ticknor had problems conducting the Council's affairs in the 1970s due to the lack of staff support (a couple regular employees at most) and staff health problems, including his own. These problems are reflected in Ticknor's apologies for his delay in responding to some correspondence, as well as by queries about conference proceedings not received, to some of which Ticknor replied that there had been an unavoidable delay in distribution. At this point, Ticknor's correspondence reveals that the financial position of the Council was not solid. Ticknor's correspondence also reveals that a good deal of his time was consumed with contacting individuals about tardy payments for subscription amounts as low as $15, or responding to requests for mailing single copies of conference proceedings at about $8. One piece of correspondence with a rental broker speaks of a renegotiated lease arrangement for the Council office that will cut the costs almost by half, and of what a help this will be under the circumstances. Official Council correspondence from Ticknor, attempting to hearten subscribers to continue their annual subscriptions, states in the template of multiple 1974 letters that in "the last two years… years…ourour operating income has been stretched thin. The flow of money has been somewhat erratic." However, Ticknor continues the letters with, "Nonetheless, we do not intend to defer… worthwhile plans."

In fact, correspondence in the collection shows that the Council, even as it was undergoing difficulties, was attempting to reconceptualize its original mission, evidently in part because of the need to revitalize its subscriber base to help the council proceed on a secure, though limited, financial footing. The new mission was to add an additional focus to the original chemurgic (industrial utilization of agricultural products) concept; the new focus was on "recovery of wastes for profits." The focus of the Council's attention would be expanded to "include the management and conservation of renewable resources… focusing on the problems of our… needs for renewable energy." Ticknor's subscriptions appeals also stated that "attention will be given to air and water pollution… The Council is going into a broader field of operation… concentrating in the use of solar energy and its relation to agriculture." Correspondence dated January 1974 encouraged potential corporate subscribers to sign up at $500 annually. But despite the announced big new plans, in February 1974 a correspondence referred to the "council's decision to hold no major conference of any sort in 1974."

A couple leftover pieces of form letters, apparently written by Ticknor, were used by him as scrap paper to write on the back of. These letters refer to the 1973 Council conference and the availability of the Proceedings. They are found on the back of sheets in the folder "General Subjects - Expense Account Records John W. Ticknor 1964." Records in that folder show that Ticknor still held his position as Assistant to the President through 1976.

II. Financial Records. 1.0 cu. ft. 1948-1977.

Financial records within the collection include bank statements, selected annual financial statements from 1951 to 1962, employer tax and insurance records, federal tax returns, statement of non-profit status, and others. The Council's bank statements are for the period 1971-1976. Other than the Council's federal tax returns, its other tax and insurance records in the collection, limited to 1976-1977, include copies of forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service, instructions and correspondence from the IRS, and employer's report of insurance contributions. The collection includes invoices from several businesses from the 1970s period, among others for rental and telephone services.

III. Chemurgic Council Conference Proceedings. 1.0 cu. ft. 1936, 1949-1962, 1964, 1968, 1970, 1972-1973, 1976.

The collection's printed Chemurgic Council conference proceedings are from 1970 to 1973. Prior to 1970, there are unbound collections of typescripts of the talks given at many of the conferences, starting with 1949 until 1968, with a conference program attached to most. These collections of the talks for a given conference are not complete. For instance, according to the program of the 1949 conference, 31 talks were given. However, there are typescripts for just 11 of them. The collection also contains a Chemurgic Council conference program for 1976.

Wheeler McMillen is listed in the programs of the 1949-1953 conferences as President of the Council. The conference program lists James H. Burrell, Chairman, National Farm Chemurgic Council, Inc. Executive Committee, as presiding at the conference, while McMillen spoke on the last day, as President. The typescripts for the 1950 and 1956 conference talks contain, respectively, the opening address "Green Frontiers" and the talk "The Agricultural Revolution - Who Will Win It?" given by McMillen. The typescript of the conference talks from 1954 includes one by Henry T. McKnight, who the typescript states to be the President of the Council. The 1956 conference program shows that McMillen was chairman of the Board of Directors of the Council for Agricultural and Chemurgic Research (the program shows that the Council used this name for a time) and vice president of Farm Journal, Inc. The 1957 conference program shows that McMillen, besides his chairmanship of the Council, was also Executive Director of the [U.S.] President's Commission on Increased Industrial Uses of Agricultural Products. The 1957 conference program shows that a Dr. Karl Butler spoke on the status of that Commission's report and its economic implications. At the 1957 conference, reports were given by the Council's special committees on swine industries and wheat, committees that also reported at later conferences. There was also a Council Research Committee panel reporting at the 1957 conference. In addition, at the 1957 conference reports on sesame, guar, safflower, and new crops in South Carolina, all considered new Chemurgic crops, were made.

Within the typescript for 1960 conference talks is a talk given by Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (unidentified) and another by Senator Carl Curtis of Nebraska. As identified in the script for the talk by another 1960 speaker, Carl Fritsche, one of the Council's founders and first Managing Director of the Council, the Council was celebrating its Silver Anniversary at the 1960 conference. Fritsche's talk, a retrospective look at the trio who began the Chemurgic Council, William Hale, Charles Herty, and Francis Garvan, spoke of the Council's maiden conference in 1935. "Twenty-five years ago next month, 300 leaders of Agriculture, Industry and Science were invited to an unusual conference held at Dearborn, Michigan, with Henry and Edsel Ford; Francis P. Garvan, president of the Chemical Foundation; Edward A. O'Neal, president of the American Farm Bureau; Louis Taber, president of the National Grange; and Clifford V. Gregory, Editor of the Prairie Farmer as joint hosts. Of the 300 invited, 297 showed up, which emphasizes their intense interest in the announced purpose of the gathering.

"The prime purpose of the conference was to try and find, and set in motion, some means to absorb the increasing surplus of commodities from the farm which had glutted all markets; brought ruiness [sic] prices to the farmer; wide-spread bankruptcy; and wholesale foreclosures of farm mortgages.

"Equally alarming at the time was the economic picture in urban areas… In the previous year, an organic chemist in Michigan, noted for his unorthodox notions, had written a book called "The Farm Chemurgic"… Our talented and dedicated chairman, Wheeler McMillen bought a copy of the book and found therein both echo and support for a thesis he had been hammering away at in his editorial column of the Country Home which he then headed. "Henry Ford bought a copy… William J. Cameron, editor of Ford's Dearborn Independent also bought a copy… and praised it editorially.

"Francis Garvan bought a copy and was so impressed that he ordered 100,000 paper-back copies which he distributed free among men of science, industry and agriculture and leaders in government.

…"And so it was with Ed O'Neal, Louis Taber, Cliff Gregory, Irene DuPont, Howard Doane and many others, including your speaker, who joined the Chemurgic procession which, as if by common consent, led to the first Dearborn Conference.

"And who was the author of this stimulating book… the inimitable, uncommonly intelligent, companionable, enjoyable, unorthodox, non-conformist, and unpredictable Bill Hale - to some, a chauvinist prophet - but to me to those who knew him well - a true Ambassador of Progress… His untimely passing in the summer of 1955 left a void hard to fill."

After the Dearborn conference, Francis Garvan guaranteed the finances of the Chemurgic Council for three years.

Charles Herty, a friend of Hale, and president of the American Chemical Society, spoke at the 1935 Dearborn conference of how he and Hale, ten years earlier, had the conversations that sparked the Chemurgic movement. Frische describes Herty's "famous research work in his Savannah Paper Laboratories… converting Southern loblolly and slash pine into newsprint…" and how both Francis Garvan and ultimately the Chemrugic Council helped finance Herty's application of his research into this enterprise.

Frische's talk continued: "Of the twenty-five speakers who participated in the first Dearborn conference, to my knowledge, only five are still alive: - Dr. Roger Adams, Howard Doane, Irene DuPont, Wheeler McMillen and Louis Taber. Referring to McMillen as "our perennial chairman," Frische said, "…Wheeler McMillen… picked up the torch of leadership which fell from the hands… of Mr. Garvan… [He is] Author and proponent of a greatly expanded research program for the four Regional Chemurgic Laboratories [the USDA regional research laboratories] and in the Land Grant Colleges."

In the 1962 Chemurgic Council conference McMillen is still shown as the Council's chairman of the board of directors, but in the 1964 program his name does not appear. Then, Merton Corey, President of the Council, presided. In 1968, a cover letter to the typescript of the conference talks is from Walter Colvin, identified as President of the Council.

The Foreword to the 1970 Conference ("Chemurgy - For Better Environment and Profits") Proceedings stated, "This is the second year that the Council has held a conference devoted to waste conversion and environmental protection."

The 1972 Conference ("Waste Utilization for Environmental Quality and Profit") Proceedings started with a Welcome to participants from W. Alec Jordan (see above), listed in the proceedings as the Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Council.

The 1973 Conference ("New Resources from the Sun") Proceedings gave information on memberships to the Council. "Companies particularly will look at these membership classifications on the basis of the utility and influence of the new work as it expands upon the Council's long established base of interchanged information. The least expensive was an individual membership - still $15. The Council will not, of itself, conduct technical research. But through its conferences and publications and through its committees of experts, it does assess and report and cross-reference significant research and technological developments. In supporting this work, men [sic] and their companies can not only gain from the experience of others but will find themselves also serving as catalysts…"

IV. General Subjects. 28.0 cu. ft. 1909, 1921-1922, 1927-1928, 1930-1933, 1937-1969, 1971, 1976, 1982, undated

The bulk of the collection is made up of general subjects folders. These represent a wide-ranging set of topics. Information collected is in the form of clipped journal articles and reprints, newspaper clippings, advertising materials, and typed or handwritten lists of books and articles that are relevant to the designated topic. Occasionally there is a sample, as a plastic film or fabric which used an agricultural product as feedstock. General subjects topics cover many of the lab sciences, as well as information about crops and, for some, about their industrial utilization. In addition, there are general and regional such as "Foreign Agriculture South America." Taken together, the general subjects series materials provided a database for the Chemerugic Council on topics with actual or potential application for chemurgy. The lab sciences topics include ones from chemistry and biochemistry, engineering, and instrumentation. The range of dates of materials in the general subjects folders spans the earliest part of the 20th century to 1968, though there are relatively few clippings etc. prior to the 1930s.

Certain general subjects titles have more material than average. These are castor beans, fertilizer, fuel, grain, minerals, pulp, soils, vegetables, and wheat. When folder titles with a common theme are grouped together, additional topics with above-average material cluster with titles whose first word is agriculture, citrus, cotton, drugs, essential oils, farming, fats, feed, fiber/synthetic fiber, fish, food, foreign agriculture, forest, insecticides, milk/milk products, paper, peanuts, plant growth/plant hormone, potatoes, poultry, protein, rubber, salt, sea, seeds, sesame, sorghums, soybean, trees, waste, water, weed control, and wood.

Scattered among various general subjects folders are typescripts of a number of addresses given by speakers to national and regional Chemurgic council meetings. Some of these may be duplicates of addresses appearing in the conference proceedings.

There are three places within general subjects folders where there is information about milestones in the institutional history of the Chemurgic Council. The folder "General Subjects -Publicity - Alec Jordan" has historical materials on the Chemurgic movement. There is reference to Wheeler McMillen's 1959 proposal for the Economic Botany Society membership to meet together with the Chemurgic Council membership at the latter's annual meeting in the folder "General Subjects - Foreign Agriculture - Africa (s. of Sahara)." One additional matter relating to the chemurgic movement is the 1933 address of Henry Wallace to the U.S. Congress on converting grain to alcohol in the folders "General Subjects - Grain."

There are a couple of General Subjects folders that contain materials originating with local or regional Chemurgic councils, for example, the Texas Chemurgic Council and the Southern Chemurgic Council.

Three folders contain materials on chemurgic-like activities occurring internally in companies, one of them in Israel, the other in the United States. Correspondence from Kibbutz Industries Associated, in folder "Correspondence KO-LAA - 1974" provides information about their program. In the folder "General Subjects-Sorbitol", the Atlas Powder Company's ATLAS Chemurgy Program is covered. Information on the Central Soya Co.'s Chemurgy Division is the folder "General Subjects - Soybeans." Also, see "Cereals Research at the Northern Regional Research Laboratory," a USDA facility, concerning industrial utilization of agricultural products, in folders titled "General Subjects - Grain." In addition, there is a typescript of a report, "The Importance of Chemurgy in the Development of Africa," in the folder "General Subjects - Foreign Agriculture - Africa (s. of Sahara)."

Scattered among general subjects folders are several typescripts of talks given by prominent Chemurgic movement figures: 1953, a talk by Wheeler McMillen in folder titled "General Subjects - Milk Products"; 1959, a talk by Wheeler McMillen in the folder titled "General Subjects Soybean - 1940s - 1950s"; an article by William Hale on radio wave control in insects (apparently, from other material in the folder, unconfirmed by subsequent researchers) in the folder "General Subjects - Insecticides General". Also in the collection, there is an article on Dr. Hale traveling in Europe in the folders titled "General Subjects - Grain," and an article on a Wheeler McMillen speech to Central Soya Co. and McMillen Feed Mills in the folder "General Subjects - Soybean 1940s-1950s."

There is a piece of internal correspondence on the letterhead of an organization abbreviated AEFS, from 1983, about an inventory done of the Chemurgic Council's materials. This is in a folder which is called "General Subjects - [Untitled]."

The folder "General Subjects - Grasses" may be of interest at Michigan State University because of its Turfgrass program.

V. Miscellaneous. .5 cu. ft. 1935, 1937, 1946-1952, 1957, undated

Included in the Miscellaneous series are Minutes of the 1935 and 1937 Farm Chemurgic Council meetings and the 1936 Southern Chemurgic Council conference proceedings mentioned above in the introduction. There is a 1957 item, the Commission on Increased Industrial Use of Agricultural Products Report to the [U.S.] Congress. Wheeler McMillen was the Executive Director of the Commission (see p. iii). Another item is a folder containing the Chemurgic Council emblem.

The Miscellaneous series includes a bindered compilation of Chemurgic papers spanning the period 1947-1952. There are also three Chemurgic papers foldered separately: 1951 papers No. 5 and No. 6 and 1952 paper No. 5 no information appearing within the collection identifies whether there were other years for which the Council issued papers.

VI. Farm Chemurgic Digest/Farm Chemurgic Journal. 1.0 cu. ft. 1953, 1955-1959, 1964- 1970.

The collection includes selected issues of the Chemurgic Council's publication Chemurgic Digest, over the span of time from 1953 to 1970. The issues of the Digest contain transcripts of talks given at chemurgic meetings. As correspondence between Ticknor and numerous subscribers/council members in the 1970s reveals, there was an erratic publication schedule for the Chemurgic Digest in the late 1960s. Ticknor explained in correspondence in the 1970s that contents formerly appearing in the Chemurgic Digest now were being printed in the annual conference proceedings, and so were available to subscribers as they had been in the past.

VII. Audio-Visual Materials. 1.0 cu. ft. 1933, 1940s-1970s.

The collection's audio-visual materials include a set of index card boxes, initially in three metal boxes, with index cards containing subscriber account information. These cards contain three sets of personal and corporate contact names and addresses, along with payments received. One of the sets contains two full sequences of alphabetic dividers. In addition, some parts of card sets are ordered by monthly divisions, apparently referring to the months when various subscribers' annual subscriptions came due. There is no clear basis on which these three sets of cards distinct from one another. All contain cards for both corporate and individual accounts, all contain both international and domestic accounts, in each there are ranges of date of payments that span, apparently, from the 1940s and 1950s to the 1970s, and in each there is a substantial range in subscription fees, as low as $5, and as high as $1000. Those corporate sponsors holding subscriptions and paying $500-1000 for them were evidently trying to affiliate their names with the Council for public relations purposes and to give assistance to the chemurgic movement, since index cards show that other companies received the same benefits for as little as $25.

Where the card sets are arranged alphabetically, the name used may be either a company name or an individual. At least in the cards arranged by month, the decision in how to file was erratic: sometimes the contact person's name was used for filing, other times the company name. Payments listed on all sets of cards seem to be for subscriptions, though inspection may reveal some cards for customers who simply ordered copies of the published Chemurgic Council Conference proceedings. There apparently wasn't any set policy for the low end subscriptions, since some international institutions have $5 subscriptions. Also, in the Correspondence series, there is a piece of correspondence in which Ticknor mentions that a lowered subscription fee is a possibility if the subscriber requires. The $1000 subscriptions were taken by some corporate subscribers, but a great many companies paid $15 for their subscriptions. These subscriptions, as form letter mailings to companies in the Correspondence series shows, entitled the subscriber to receive the annual conference proceedings.

There are no audio materials in the collection.

Archivist's Note: This collection was processed in the Summer 2001 entirely by Harrison "Van" Kalbach, graduate student in the History Department. Archivist Jeanine M. Mazak supervised his work and edited the final version of the finding aid.


  • Creation: 1909 - 1983


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.

Historical Note

Originating in a time of farm oversupply and agricultural depression, chemurgy was a vision promoting the expansion of the use of plant and livestock agriculture products as feedstocks for industry. Its early advocates were lab scientists, industrialists, and agricultural editors and economists. The Chemurgic Council Collection complements the MSUAHC William J. Hale and Leo M. Christensen collections. Both William Hale and Leo Christensen were participants as the chemurgic community who met formally for the first time in 1935 as the National Farm Chemurgic Council. The earliest Chemurgic Council collection's documents issuing from the Council are the Minutes of the 1935 and 1937 Farm Chemurgic council meetings at the Council offices in Dearborn, Michigan. From the same decade are the proceedings of the 1936 Southern Chemurgic Conference, held in Pensacola, Florida. These are followed, within the collection's documents issuing from the Council, by national conference proceedings dated 1949 and after.

Henry Ford predicted in the first decade of the chemurgic movement that before many decades, the feedstocks for the entire manufactured automobile would be agricultural materials. Two excerpts from the collection's materials from the 1970s are illustrative of the final active decade of the Council.

A passage from the introduction to the 1972 conference proceedings points both to the early achievements of the Council and its mission as seen from a 1970s perspective: "The Chemurgic Council was established at Dearborn, Michigan, in 1935 when 240 industrial leaders, scientists, and farmers met on the invitation of Henry Ford, Francis P. Garvan, William J. Hale, Wheeler McMillen, and others to discuss ways of finding industrial uses for crops… The Chemurgic Council anticipated and publicized the country's need for the Regional Research Laboratories of the U.S. Department of Agriculture… The Council also fosters a new-crops program… The Council serves primarily as a catalyst to get new ideas started in the upgrading of renewable resources and the reduction of pollution-abatement costs by recovery of values from waste." (p. iii)

Council President Benjamin Phillips' Message in the October 1970 Chemurgic Digest provides a snapshot of Council activities and interests. "It is certainly true that we now often find ourselves concerned with problems having technological and business bases very different from traditional chemurgy, but I think that this shows a willingness to use new approaches and to address ourselves to new facets of chemurgy rather than a change of goals. What are these objectives? Though we may not have stated them formally in so many words,… the Chemurgic Council has always stood for utilization of renewable resources… but our objectives can also be achieved by making use of waste products from any source, whether agricultural, municipal, or industrial. Current national concern for the quality of our environment encourages us to emphasize this utilization of wastes. Having been concerned with these and related problems for many years, the Council is in a good position to… contribute to an orderly working out of solutions. The resurgence of interest in chemurgy today is to a considerable extent the result of our willingness to apply our knowledge and experience to these serious problems. Chemurgy depends for its success on practical technology and sound business judgements. It is accordingly appropriate that the Chemurgic Council reflect the thinking of businessmen as well as scientists and engineers. One of the most useful activities of the Council is in bringing together people and organizations with synergistic interests but differing experiences and talents… The membership of the Chemurgic Council comprises organizations and individuals whose collective business and technical interests cover a very broad range… To those of you who have been sources of information on chemurgic projects we extend our thanks. To those of you with budding new chemurgic projects we extend an invitation to utilize the Council in your work." (p. 1)

It is apparent from this excerpt that one benefit the Council offered was a networking hub among individuals, companies and institutions interested in industrial use of agricultural and livestock products, and more recently renewable resources and effective waste utilization.

There is an unexplained chronological disparity in the various series. While the annual financial statements and journal reprints and clippings in the general subjects files stop in the 1960s, other materials in the financial records series such as invoices sent to the Council relating to its office operations and tax and insurance records extend through the 1970s and beyond.


34 Cubic Feet (, 17 volumes (in box))

Language of Materials


Organization of the Records

These records are organized into 7 series

Missing Title

  1. I. Correspondence. 1.5 cu. ft. 1939, 1941, 1954 - 1966, 1970 - 1976, 1983, n.d.
  2. II. Financial Records. 1.0 cu. ft. 1948-1977.
  3. III. Chemurgic Council Conference Proceedings. 1.0 cu. ft. 1936, 1949-1962, 1964, 1968, 1970, 1972-1973, 1976.
  4. IV. General Subjects. 28.0 cu. ft. 1909, 1921-1922, 1927-1928, 1930-1933, 1937-1969, 1971, 1976, 1982, n.d.
  5. V. Miscellaneous. .5 cu. ft. 1935, 1937, 1946-1952, 1957, n.d.
  6. VI. Farm Chemurgic Digest/Farm Chemurgic Journal. 1.0 cu. ft. 1953, 1955-1959, 1964- 1970.
  7. VII. Audio-Visual Materials. 1.0 cu. ft. 1933, 1940s-1970s.

Custodial History

From 1970 until 1980 the location of the council records is unknown. In 1980 they were in the possession of a Minnesota Company called American Energy Farming Systems, which was dedicated to producing power alcohol from Jerusalem artichokes. The company went bankrupt and the papers ended up in the hands of a marginal participant who sold them to Dr. Joseph Amato of Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. Dr. Amato sold the papers to David Wright who donated them to the University Archives on 08-11-1994.

Related Archival Materials

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

See also Leo M. Christensen papers, 1837-1972 (00174), University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

Legal Status

Copyright: Michigan State University Property Rights: Michigan State University

Farm Chemurgic Council Records
4 Published And Cataloged
J. Mazak
September 2002
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