Biography of Charles Vancouver Piper (1867-1926)

William Shurtleff, Akiko AoyagiISBN: 978-1-928914-94-5

Publication Date: 2017 July 10

Number of References in Bibliography: 747

Earliest Reference: 1864

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Brief chronology/timeline Charles Vancouver Piper (1867-1926)
This biography emphasizes Charles V. Piper’s work with soybeans from Aug. 1905 on, and his work with golf putting greens and turf from 1917 on.
      This is the first book-length biography of Charles V. Piper.
Charles V. Piper had at least five claims to fame.
      1. Soybeans: He was the first man in the United States to see clearly that the soybean would become a major crop, and he did so in about 1907, when it was little more than a botanical curiosity. He acted on this prophetic vision by hiring William J. Morse, who had just graduated from Cornell University, to focus on helping the soybean to realize its potential. His interest in soybeans never waned, and in 1923 The Soybean, by Piper and Morse was published by McGraw-Hill Book Co. (xv, 329 p.). It was the first comprehensive book about the soybean written in English, and it remains a classic. It was so important that we consider everything published or written about soybeans before it to be early soybean history.
      2. Golf Putting Greens and Turf: He was the first man to study these from the viewpoint of a botanist and agrostologist (one who studies grasses), and in 1917 he wrote a major book on the subject that demystified it and won him a place in the heart of many golfers in America.
      3. Botany: He was an outstanding botanist who wrote numerous books and articles on the subject. His specialty was the plants of the Pacific Northwest. He named many new species.
      4. Applied Botany to Commercial Crops: Most botanists had little interest in commercial crops. But those crops needed botanists. To remedy this he became a founder of the American Society of Agronomy – which continues to be a thriving organization.
      5. A Man with Big Ideas Who Loved Hard Work: He was a highly original and creative thinker in every subject that interested him. Perhaps he was first and foremost a scientist, with equal interest in applied and pure science.
1867 June 16 – Charles Vancouver Piper is born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, one of the nine children (6 boys and 3 girls) of Andrew William and Minna “Minnie” (Hausman) Piper. His father, a naturalized American citizen was a confectioner and occasionally a baker. He was born in March 1830 in either Bavaria or Prussia, and both his parents were born in either Bavaria or Prussia. He immigrated to the USA in 1848. Minna was born in June 1834 in Hanover or Prussia and both her parents were born in Hannover or Prussia, She immigrated to the USA in 1853 (1880 Seattle Census; 1900 King County Census).
      The four eldest children in the family (Norman, Bertha, Matilda, and Paul) were born in California. Charles was the first born in Canada or in British Columbia; Lillie was also born in British Columbia. The two youngest (Oscar and Stanley) were born in the Territory of Washington.
1875 – By this time the Piper family is residing in the Territory of Washington, in Seattle, King County.
1877 – Young Charles begins to study botany at age ten; “at twelve he agitated the family by bringing home specimens of skunk cabbage and other odoriferous plants indigenous to the region.
      “At sixteen he was president of the Young Naturalists, a society of youths that studied the flora and fauna of Western Washington, the studies sometimes extending to the neighbors' apple orchards” (Sunday Star {Washington, D.C.}. 1915. Aug. 15, Part 4).
1885 – C.V. Piper, age 18, receives his Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Washington (Seattle).
1885 – Piper is a member of the third party ever recorded as having climbed to the summit of Mount Rainier. The party consisted of eight men, including the naturalist John Muir (Beattie. 1928. March 16).
1890 – Charles V. Piper is working as a stenographer for Wm. M. Calhoun & Co. He boards at 11th & southwest corner of Pine with his parents and siblings (R.L. Polk & Co. 1890. Seattle City Directory).
1892 – C.V. Piper receives his Master of Science Degree from the University of Washington.
1893 – He goes to Pullman, Washington, as Professor of Botany and Zoology in the Washington Agricultural College (now State College of Washington) and remains as head of the department until 1903.
1897 Sept. 15 –He marries Laura Maude Hungate in Pullman, Washington. She was born in March 1873 in Illinois, the daughter of James A. and Elizabeth (Wyne) Hungate. Both parents were born in Illinois. Charles is age 30 and Maude age 26. In June 1900 the married couple is living with Charles’ parents in King County, Washington state.
1900 – He attends summer school at Harvard University (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) and earns a second M.S. degree there; he remains on as a professor of botany and zoology until 1903, when he is appointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
1901 MayThe Flora of the Palouse Region, by Charles V. Piper and R. Kent Beattie is published by The Washington Agricultural College (vii + 208 p.). This is Piper’s first book.
1903 Oct. – He goes to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC. He is first put in charge of the Grass Herbarium in the Office of Agrostologist from 1903 to 1905, and is then put in charge of the Office of Forage-Crop Investigations from 1905 (the time of its organization as a separate unit) until his death.
1904 – He does field work in Alaska.
1906 Oct.The Flora of the State of Washington, by Charles V. Piper, is published by the United States National Herbarium (Smithsonian Institution) (637 p.).
1907 Dec. 31 – The American Society of Agronomy is founded, and C.V. Piper is one 5 initiators (letter of Nov. 30, 1907) and one of 43 founding members. Starting in 1909, he presents papers that are published in the Proceedings of the American Society of Agronomy. As “Chairman,” he wrote the Preface to volume 1, no. 1 of these Proceedings giving an early history of the society.
1911 – He is asked “by the War Department to make a survey of forage possibilities in the Philippine islands to determine what might be done in the way of growing hay there for army purposes. He spends 4 and one-half months on this task doing field work and returned by way of Java, India, Egypt and Europe, collecting seeds for the Department of Agriculture, and visiting botanic gardens and museums en route” (Vinall 1926, p. 296).
1912 – Piper’s active work in golf turf investigations begins (Oakley 1926, p. 57).
1914 Jan.Flora of Southeastern Washington and Adjacent Idaho, by Charles V. Piper and R. Kent Beattie is published.
1914 – He is the 7th president of the American Society of Agronomy – for one year. During that year he is chairman of the “Committee on Standardization of Field Experiments.”
1915 Nov.Flora of the Northwest Coast, by Charles V. Piper and R. Kent Beattie is published.
1916 – He writes four articles in the Journal of the American Society of Agronomy, each titled “Contributions to agronomic terminology.” Most of these draw on his deep knowledge of botanical terminology. Also in 1916 and 1918 he is chair of the committee on agronomic terminology.
1917 MarchTurf for Golf Courses, by Charles V. Piper and R.A. Oakley, is published by The Macmillan Co. (262 p.). It quickly becomes a classic, replacing many mysteries by solid science and botany.
1917 Sept. 24 – Charles V. Piper writes his last will and testament.” He leaves all his personal property to his wife, Maude, and also names her executrix of his estate.
1919 – He discovers a clump of bent grass growing on a green at the Washington Golf and Country Club. By the vegetative method of propagation he secures some stolons (runners) of this grass and in 1921 he distributes the stolons to various golf associations for trial. This grass becomes known as the Washington creeping bent and by 1926 it is found growing on thousands of golf greens throughout the northern part of the United States.
1921 – The Green Section of the U. S. Golf Association is established with C.V. Piper as its Chairman and R.A. Oakley as its Vice-Chairman. Both are employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This golf work becomes Piper’s main interest and his main concern until his death (Oakley 1926, p. 57).
      On 10 Feb. 1921 the first issue of the monthly Bulletin of the Green Section of the U.S. Golf Association is published. Piper and Oakley write an article in most issues.
1921 – The Kansas Agricultural College confers upon him an honorary D.Sc. degree. Thereafter he is often referred to as “Dr. Piper.”
1923 Feb.The Soybean, by Piper and Morse, is published by McGraw-Hill. This classic is the first comprehensive book about the soybean written in English, and the most important book on soybeans and soyfoods written up to this time. It contains an excellent review of the world literature on soybeans and soyfoods with a 22-page bibliography on soy that is larger than any published prior to that time (563 references). It also contains many fine photographs. This book put the soybean “on the map.”
1923 Feb. – The War Department asks him to visit the Panama Canal Zone to do field work, studying the botanical characteristics of its flora and to recommend methods for the production of forage for army horses and mules (Vinall 1926, p. 296).
1924 – He travels to Europe under the auspices of the U.S. Golf Association for the purpose of doing field work, studying turf and turf grasses on European golf courses (Vinall 1926, p. 296).
1925 Aug. 15 – Dr. A.J. Pieters of USDA tells William Morse that “Prof. Piper is quite sick.” His condition is not improving (Letter from Morse to W.B. Lydenberg, Office of Forage Crops, USDA).
1925-26 – Dr. Piper had been in poor health for some time before his death, but he continued to carry on his work. He suffered a light stroke of paralysis at his office the previous Monday morning (Feb. 8), and was taken to his home, and then to the hospital the following day (Official Record of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. 1926, Feb. 17).
1926 Feb. 11 – C.V. Piper dies in Washington, D.C. at Emergency Hospital, Thursday evening. Age 58, he is survived by his wife (Maude), mother, three brothers and three sisters. The immediate cause of his death is uremic poisoning due to Bright’s disease. Because of high blood pressure, he had been forced to be careful in his work for several years, but was actively discharging his official duties up to four days before his death (Vinall 1926).
      He and his wife lived at 1499 Irving St. He was an honorary member of the Washington Golf and Country Club, and had been very active in its affairs until several months before his death.
      His cremated remains are buried in Lake View Cemetery, King County, Washington state. He is apparently alone in this plot.

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