William James Beal

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William James Beal
The history of the Treman, Tremaine, Truman family in America; with the related families of Mack, Dey, Board and Ayers; being a history of Joseph Truman of New London, Conn. (1666); John Mack of Lyme, (14781664474).jpg
Born (1833-03-11)March 11, 1833
Adrian, Michigan
Died May 12, 1924(1924-05-12) (aged 91)
Amherst, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Fields Botanist
Institutions University of Chicago
Michigan State University
Alma mater University of Michigan
Harvard University
University of Chicago
Known for Pioneer in the development of hybrid corn
Founder of W. J. Beal Botanical Garden
Spouse Hannah Proud Beal

William James Beal (March 11, 1833 – May 12, 1924) was an American botanist. He was a pioneer in the development of hybrid corn and the founder of the W. J. Beal Botanical Garden.


Beal was born in Adrian, Michigan, to William and Rachel (Comstock) Beal,[1] and he married Hannah Proud in 1863. He attended the University of Michigan, where he earned 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. Between 1858 and 1861 he was also teacher of Natural Sciences at Friends Academy at Union Springs, New York.[2][3]

He served as professor of botany at the University of Chicago in 1868-70, then went on to Michigan Agricultural College (MAC, now Michigan State University), where he was a professor of botany (1871-1910), and curator of the museum (1882-1903). While at MAC, he arranged for Liberty Hyde Bailey to work as an assistant to Asa Gray at Harvard University for two years during 1883-1884.[4] He also served as director of the state Forestry Commission (1889-1892).[3]

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.[3]

In 1887, he and Professor Rolla C. Carpenter created "Collegeville", the first neighborhood in what later became East Lansing.[3]

He retired to Amherst, Massachusetts, and died there in 1924.[3]

Germination Experiment[edit]

In 1879 Beal started one of the longest running experiments in botany. He filled 20 bottles with a mixture of sand and seeds, with each bottle containing 50 seeds from 21 species of plant. Then the bottles were buried, their necks pointing down to exclude water. The goal of the experiment was to unearth one of the bottles every five years, plant the seeds, and observe the number that would sprout. Later caretakers extended the experiment by opening a bottle once every decade, and later, every two decades. The most recent bottle was unearthed in 2000, and 2 of the 21 plant species sprouted. The experiment is still running, with the next bottle due to be tested in 2020,[5] with the end of the study due in 2100.[6][7][8][9][10]


Merely learning the name of a plant or parts of a plant can no longer be palmed off as valuable training.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beal, William James (1915). History of the Michigan Agricultural College: And Biographical Sketches of Trustees and Professors. Agricultural college. p. 414. 
  2. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=ZgjiAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA311&dq=Friends+Academy,+Union+Springs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=MLEtVbuwDO2IsQTUkYE4&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=Friends%20Academy%2C%20Union%20Springs&f=false
  3. ^ a b c d e "MSU’S ICONIC PROFESSORS" by Bob Bao, MSU Alumni, Spring 2003
  4. ^ Dupree, A. Hunter (1988). Asa Gray, American Botanist, Friend of Darwin. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 384–385, 388. ISBN 978-0-801-83741-8. 
  5. ^ Experiments That Keep Going And Going And Going
  6. ^ Beal, W. J. 1884. The vitality of seeds. Proc. Soc. Promot. Agric. Sci. 5:44-46.
  7. ^ Beal, W.J. 1905. The vitality of seeds. Bot. Gaz. 38:140-143.
  8. ^ Darlington, H.T. 1941. The sixty-year period for Dr. Beal's seed viability experiment. Amer. J. Bot. 28:271-273.
  9. ^ Kivilaan, A. & Bandurski, R. S. 1981. The one hundred-year period for Dr. Beal's seed viability experiment. Amer. J. Bot. 68:1290-1292.
  10. ^ Telewski, F. W. and Zeevaart, J. 2002. The 120th year of the Beal seed viability study. Amer. J. Bot. 89(8): 1285-1288.
  11. ^ IPNI.  Beal. 
  12. ^ "Life devoted to College is concluded: Teacher, scholar, philosopher, combined in qualities of Dr Beal" (PDF). The M.A.C. Record. 29 (30). May 19, 1924. 

External links[edit]