William James Beal
Beal was born in Adrian, Michigan, to William and Rachel (Comstock) Beal, and he married Hannah Proud in 1863. He attended the University of Michigan, which gave him an A.B. degree in 1859 and an A.M. degree in 1862; he also received an S.B. degree from Harvard University, 1865, an M.S. degree from the University of Chicago, 1875, and a number of honorary degrees.
He served as professor of botany at the University of Chicago in 1868-70, then went on to Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University), where he was a professor of botany (1871-1910), and curator of the museum (1882-1903). He also served as director of the state Forestry Commission (1889-1892).
Beal was the founder of MSU's W. J. Beal Botanical Garden, the oldest continuously operated botanical garden in the United States. He was one of the pioneers in the development of hybrid corn. He was the author of The New Botany, Grasses of North America, and History of Michigan Agricultural College.
Germination Experiment 
In 1879 Beal started one of the longest running experiments in botany. He filled 20 bottles with a mix of sand and seeds with each bottle containing 50 seeds from 21 species of plant. Then the bottles were buried, their necks pointing down so that water wouldn't get in. The goal of the experiment was to dig up one of the bottles every five years, plant the seeds, and see how many of them would sprout. Later caretakers extended the experiment by opening a bottle only once every decade, and later, every two decades. The last bottle was dug up in 2000, and 2 of the 21 plant species sprouted. The experiment is still running, with the next bottle due to be dug up in 2020, with the end of the study due in 2100.
Merely learning the name of a plant or parts of a plant can no longer be palmed off as valuable training.
- "MSU’S ICONIC PROFESSORS" by Bob Bao, MSU Alumni, Spring 2003
- Experiments That Keep Going And Going And Going
- Beal, W. J. 1884. The vitality of seeds. Proc. Soc. Promot. Agric. Sci. 5:44-46.
- Beal, W.J. 1905. The vitality of seeds. Bot. Gaz. 38:140-143.
- Darlington, H.T. 1941. The sixty-year period for Dr. Beal's seed viability experiment. Amer. J. Bot. 28:271-273.
- Kivilaan, A. & Bandurski, R. S. 1981. The one hundred-year period for Dr. Beal's seed viability experiment. Amer. J. Bot. 68:1290-1292.
- Telewski, F. W. and Zeevaart, J. 2002. The 120th year of the Beal seed viability study. Amer. J. Bot. 89(8): 1285-1288.
- "Author Query for 'Beal'". International Plant Names Index.
See also 
|Wikisource has the text of a 1900 Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography article about William James Beal.|
- Photo of W.J. Beal (circa 1920)[dead link]
- William James Beal Society (for donors of at least $10,000,000 to Michigan State University)
- William J. Beal and the Botanical Garden[dead link]
- Cowles House (home of W. J. Beal, now the MSU president's house)[dead link]