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William James Beal papers

 Record Group
Identifier: UA-17.4

Scope and Contents

The William J. Beal papers consist of correspondence, publications, and materials relating to his work as a student at Harvard University. The material from Beal's years at Harvard includes course notes on anatomy, geology and ornithology as well as a detailed journal which Beal wrote in 1862. This journal includes comments on individuals as well as events of the period.

The correspondence is not extensive but contains several letters from Asa Gray as well as a typescript copy of a letter that Beal wrote in 1862 on the teachings of Louis Agassiz. The correspondence also contains a photocopy of an 1878 letter from Charles Darwin discussing hybrid corn. The volume listing Beal's publications is particularly useful since it gives a complete listing of all his writings from 1861 to 1921.


  • Creation: 1859 - 1940


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

William J. Beal was born on March 11, 1833 in Adrian, Michigan. In 1859, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. degree in classical studies. After two years of teaching material science at The Friend's Academy in Union Springs, New York, Beal enrolled at Harvard. While there, he studied under famous botanists, Asa Gray, Louis Agassiz, and Jeffries Wyman, and eventually graduated with his B.S. degree.

In 1871, Beal began his long association with Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) as a professor of botany and horticulture. A pioneer in teaching "The New Botany" as outlined in his 1880 address, Beal placed great emphasis on independent learning through observation. Several of his students went on to become prominent scientists including C. S. Crandall, professor of pomology at Illinois; C. C. Georgeson who developed wheat and strawberries capable of withstanding Alaska's climate; and Liberty Hyde Bailey who became a world authority on palm species. Perhaps Beal's greatest achievement was his experiments in cross-fertilization of corn which led directly to the development of hybrid corn. His most enduring act was the establishment of the oldest continuously operated garden in the nation in 1873: Beal Botanical Garden at Michigan Agricultural College. This garden is recognized as one of the best in the country serving as both an outdoor teaching lab and a focal point for naturalists. In 1910, Beal retired after forty years of service to write a history of M.A.C. He spent his remaining years in Amherst, Massachusetts until his death in 1924.


1 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Legal Status

Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to Michigan State University but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Copyright restrictions may apply. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

William James Beal Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
William McDaid
December 1979
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