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  • NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCESOF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

    BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRSVOLUME XXIFIRST MEMOIR

    BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIROF

    ERWIN FRINK SMITH1854-1927

    BY

    L. R. JONESWith synopsis of researches by

    ERWIN F. SMITH

    and bibliography byFREDERICK V. RAND

  • ERWIN FRINK SMITH

    1854-1927BY L. R. JONES1

    The personal qualities that endeared Erwin F. Smith to thefriends and scientific associates of his mature years were evidentfrom his early youth. Among these were a lovable disposition,passion for study, quick idealism, intense devotion to the taskin hand, and unalterable integrity. He was born in the littlevillage of Gilberts Mills, New York, on January 21, 1854. Hisparents, R. K. Smith and Louisa (Frink) Smith, migrated inhis early childhood to a farm home in Hubbardston in southernMichigan. Unfortunately we are able to add but little concern-ing his earlier ancestral history. His family were of Anglo-Saxon stock, some of the lines going back among the earliestof the New England settlers. They were pioneers and frontiers-men, who helped to settle half a dozen towns in eastern Massa-chusetts and then moved on into Connecticut, afterwards intocentral New York, and still later into southern and centralMichigan and farther west. His immediate forebears on bothsides lived in central New York in small farming communities,and his family had settled in Gilberts Mills shortly before hewas born. Their social life centered around the church andschool, and there was a strong element of piety in his home life.There was much hard work to be done, but his was a happyboyhood, with all the interests and activities connected withfarming, to which he early added an interest in books, nature,science, medicine, art, and music. That Smith himself recog-

    1 Thanks are due for kindly advice and aid in the preparation of thismemoir to numerous friends and scientific associates of Doctor Smith.Especial mention should be made of Mrs. Erwin F. Smith for access tounpublished early writings, now deposited in the library of the U. S. De-partment of Agriculture, and of Dr. Liberty Hyde Bailey, whose friendshipwith Smith dated from their early associations as amateur botanists inMichigan. Dr. Frederick V. Rand and Miss Florence Hedges, long-timemembers of Doctor Smith's research group, aided concerning many details.Doctor Rand prepared the manuscript for the bibliography in consultationwith Miss Claribel R. Barnett and other staff members of the Library ofthe Department of Agriculture.

  • NATIONAL ACADEMY BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOL. XXI

    nized his own indebtedness to worthy forebears is shown in briefsuggestion at the close of his "Synopsis." There he lists twosignificant traits, most helpful in his scientific work, as "mattersof inheritance." These were "persistence along a previously de-termined line of work" with a "fondness for all forms of art anda desire for perfection.'' Evidence for both of these traits is tobe found throughout his educational development. Partly fromfinancial necessity, partly because of shy individualism, hisformal schooling was inconsequential through the Ionia (Michi-gan) High School from which he graduated at the unusuallymature age of twenty-six. His studies were even less regularat the Michigan Agricultural College, where he spent some timewhile employed with the State Board of Health at Lansing.With little more formality he then enrolled at the University ofMichigan and was granted the bachelor's degree in June, 1886,and three years later the doctor's degree. This latter was basedon Smith's work on peach yellows, a serious orchard disease tobe discussed later. At the close of the examination for the doc-torate Professor Volney Spalding, his major counselor duringthese four years, expressed regret that the University could offerno higher token of its esteem for Smith's scholarly researches.This is but one of many testimonials that, throughout these un-conventional relations in lower schools, college and universityalike, he was recognized as having unusual intellectual interestsand scholarly abilities. Fortunately, at all stages he also metwith liberal-minded teachers and wise advisers, who gave en-couragement and aid in his irregular educational programs andrelated problems.

    From such personal associations with teachers and otherfriends he early developed a keen interest, continued throughlife, in language and literature. Similar stimulating relations onthe scientific side began with Charles F. Wheeler, the druggistof his home town. Wheeler was a keen, scholarly man and theleading amateur botanist of Michigan. Through his kindlyinterest in this eagerly inquisitive country boy, Smith was earlytutored in French and was introduced almost simultaneously tothe fascinations of chemistry and botany. One result was thathe early set up some simple chemical apparatus in his home.

  • ERWIN FRINK SMITH JONES

    More significant, however, was the close association of Wheelerand Smith throughout many years of intensive work in tax-onomic botany. Beginning with exhaustive local explorations,these developed into a state-wide study of the Michigan floraand matured in their noteworthy hand-book, "The Flora ofMichigan." This was published in 1881, the year after Smithgraduated from high school. The influence of this early botani-cal work in association with so able and enthusiastic a taxonomistas Wheeler was evident in much of Smith's later work. It out-weighed that of any formal course of study in biology.

    Smith's associated school programs were at once so unusualand significant as to deserve more intimate glimpses. While hisearly botanical work with Wheeler was in progress he taught forsome time in district schools. In 1876, when twenty-two yearsold, he entered the Ionia High School. Here he found twoexceptionally good teachers. The first of these was the principal,A. R. DeWolf, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan.Smith's personality and genius immediately impressed DeWolfwho has, in a recent letter, described their early relations asfollows:

    "Wearing a full beard . . . he entered school the second weekof the fall term . . . At the close of the day . . . he introducedhimself . . . outlined his circumstances . . . obstacles . . .Mentioned work, upon which engaged [Flora of Michigan] . . .could not be quite regular in attendance . . . but would exerciseadditional diligence in preparation. His unusual intelligence,courteous bearing and evident acquirements were such that I fellin love with him and . . . gave full permission to come and goas the spirit moved . . . he dropped everything, filled his col-lecting can with food and went into the woods in search foruncommon and new species. For days he was lost to everythingelse. Before I knew him he had acquired a fine knowledge ofthe French language . . . [Wheeler had been his tutor and fel-low correspondent with botanists in France] . . . read exten-sively the French scientific books, thus laying the foundation forthe scientific work of his later life."

    In this same Ionia school he was much influenced by an able andsympathetic English teacher, who quickly realized and stimulatedhis love for the best in literature, including poetry and relatedartistic interests. This continued as a formative influence

  • NATIONAL ACADEMY BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS VOL. XXI

    throughout life. Smith later commented that in these early yearshe would as readily have become a teacher of literature as ascientist.

    Mention should here be made of another association whichwas to exert an important influence upon Smith's later scientificcareer. As earlier noted, he worked for the Michigan Board ofHealth at Lansing, while carrying on his undergraduate studiesin the State College. This work was directed by Dr. Henry F.Baker, a recent graduate of the Michigan University MedicalSchool, a man of scientific ability, keenly interested in the ad-vancement of modern sanitation. To aid in such a programDr. Baker commissioned Smith to review the literature. Animportant part of this was in European publications, notablyGerman and French. Smith's exhaustive digest and forcefulreport upon this subject, consisting of some 180 pages, was sub-mitted to the Board at a public meeting in 1884. The associateddiscussion indicates that Smith's report was accepted as a majorcontribution. This seems especially significant when one findson the same program a paper by Dr. Victor C. Vaughan, thenone of the-keenest younger members of the University medicalfaculty who, with Frederick V. Novy, was soon to lead in Michi-gan's notable program in medical bacteriology. The influence ofthis experience on Smith's later scientific career can only beunderstood by noting such associations and recalling the date.He was thus in the mid-eighties taking a leading part in digestingand discussing sections of the European medical literature whenit was under the formative influence of Pasteur, Lister, andKoch. There is record of Smith's comment that at this time hewished to be a doctor. But this, like his earlier inclinationtoward language, is chiefly significant as showing how fully hethrew himself into the work in hand and how eagerly he met eachnew intellectual challenge.

    A peculiar sequence of such challenges followed in the nextyear which combined to turn Smith's interests in parasitism andpathology from the diseases of animals to those of plants. Thefirst of these came during the summer and autumn of 1885 withthe occurrence of an unusually destructive disease of potato, the

  • ERWIN FRINK SMITH JONES

    leaf blight and tuber rot.2 Smith, then transferring from theState College to his senior year as student at the University ofMichigan, made an intensive study of this disease in field andlaboratory. He accompanied this with a thorough review of thepertinent European literature, inc