William Joseph Morse - History of His Work with Soybeans and Soyfoods (1884-2017)

William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi

Publication Date: 2017 July 20

Number of References in Bibliography: 1317

Earliest Reference: 1883

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 Brief Timeline of William J. Morse and his work with Soybeans and Soyfoods. Including Palemon Howard Dorsett.

 1884 May 10 – William Joseph Morse is born in Lowville, New York, the son of John Baptist Morse (a butcher shop owner) and Lena Kirschner. He attends Lowville Academy (high school) there; a good athlete, he plays on the football team.
1905 – Dr. Charles V. Piper becomes head of USDA’s Office of Forage Crop Investigations at the time of its founding. Also by 1905 he is aware of soy beans and has mentioned them in his writings.
1907 Feb. 16 – Dr. C.V. Piper writes a letter to W.J. Morse in Ithaca, New York, offering him a job in USDA’s Office of Forage Crop Investigations. It begins: “Dear Sir: Prof. Thos. F. Hunt has recommended you for a vacancy which we have in this office. This position is on Arlington Farm adjacent to the city here and will involve breeding work with the grasses and legumes and also testing of a large number of miscellaneous new forage plants. For the first year the position will pay $900.” On Feb. 20 Morse replies with a “brief account of the nature of the work I have pursued here at the Cornell College of Agriculture.” On June 18 Dr. Piper makes Morse a firm job offer.
1907 June 20 – Morse graduates with a BS in Agriculture (BSA) degree from Cornell University. In the College of Agriculture he did considerable field work on the Agronomy Farm. His thesis was about the impurities of grass and clover seeds.
1907 June 22 – Morse, age 24, goes to work as an “Agrostologist” for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the Division of Forage Crops and Diseases, Bureau of Plant Industry in Washington, DC – just at the time the division was planning to expand its research on soybeans. Charles Vancouver Piper (age 40) was the first man to see clearly the potential of the soybean in America. Piper was to have an immense influence on the rest of Morse’s life. Morse’s first work included growing and testing soy beans at the Arlington Farm, across the Potomac River in nearby Virginia. Yet until 1931 he was also responsible for research on and writing about other forage crops such as cowpeas, kudzu, velvet beans, etc. Continuing his athletics, he rows with a local crew.
1909 Feb. 17 – By this date H.T. Nielsen has resigned as Scientific Assistant, Forage Crop Investigations, Bureau of Plant Industry, USDA, Washington, D.C. He leaves on good terms with all his co-workers and begins farming in Abeline, Kansas.
      Throughout 1907, 1908, and until Feb. 1909, Nielsen may well have been the most knowledgeable person at USDA concerning both soybeans and cowpeas, with the possible exception of his boss, C.V. Piper. He was almost certainly more knowledgeable than William J. Morse (age 24). When Nielsen left, Morse was given his position as “Scientific Assistant,” Forage Crop Investigations.
1909 March 24 – Piper sends Prof. A.T. Wiancko at the Ag. Experiment station in, Lafayette, Indiana, and to Dr. G.C. Hopkins at the corresponding station in Urbana, Illinois, a list of 186 varieties of soybeans grown at Arlington Farm. Piper hopes that each man will order varieties, test them at their respective stations, then report the results to Piper and Morse.
1909 April – A new U.S. domestic soybean variety is named “Morse.” It is yellow seeded with an olive yellow hilum (PI 19186). It was introduced by Frank N. Meyer, USDA agricultural explorer.
1909 Oct. 7 – C.V. Piper and H.T. Nielsen publish a 26-page article titled “Soy beans” in Farmers’ Bulletin (USDA) No. 372. This is Piper’s earliest known publication on soy beans. It includes a description of 12 named soy bean varieties, and states: During the past 3 years more than 200 soy bean varieties have been introduced from China, Japan and India; most of these have already been sufficiently tested to give some idea of their value.
1909 – A total of 16,385 bushels of soybeans are produced on 1,629 acres in the United States (Bureau of the Census, 1913, p. 626).
1910 Dec. 31 – C.V. Piper and W.J. Morse publish “The soy bean: History, varieties, and field studies,” and 84 page article in USDA Bureau of Plant Industry Bulletin No. 197. The earliest publication seen written jointly by Piper and Morse, and the earliest document seen written by or about Morse in connection with soybeans, it also the most important document ever published on early soybean varieties, and early soybean history, in the United States. However it contains no mention of food uses.
1910 – W.J. Morse joins the American Society of Agronomy. He was active in its affairs and was elected a Fellow in 1946.
1911 Aug. 22 – In a letter to his superior R.A. Oakley, Morse describes his plans to visit the state experiment stations in North Carolina, then Urbana, Illinois, then Lafayette, Indiana [Purdue] on behalf of soybeans. His first such trip was apparently to Florida and Alabama.
1911 – Dr. C.V. Piper travels to India and, among other things, sends back to the United States 108 varieties of soybeans from different parts of the country.
1911 Sept. 20 – William Morse and Edna Blanche Siggers are married in Washington, DC at the Church of the Advent. They rent an apartment at 158 U St., N.W., Washington, DC. They live here until 1917, when they buy a home at 6809 Fifth St., N.W., Takoma Park, D.C.
1912 June 6 – W.J. Morse writes his first solo article: “The soy bean; a valuable leguminous crop for the North,” in Tribune Farmer (New York); p. 1-2.
1913 Sept. – Morse visits Purdue University to learn and teach about soybeans. Each year after this, in the spring, summer, and fall, Morse travels to visit agricultural experiment stations, farmers, and soybean processors (including manufactures of food products) to disseminate new and promising soybean varieties, learn and teach about soybeans – and to renew friendships and make new friends for the soybean and for himself. His most frequent early visits are to Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, and Tennessee.
1914 April – Dr. C.V. Piper writes a long article titled “The name of the soy bean: A chapter in its botanical history” in the Journal of the American Society of Agronomy in which he gives the soy bean the scientific name Soja max. Thus, the name of the plant was thereafter cited as Soja max (Piper). Although the soy bean was given its present scientific name (Glycine max (L.)) in 1917 by Merrill, it took a long time to be accepted. So Piper’s name was used well into the 1940s.
1914 Aug. 2 – The Washington Post reports: "W.J. Morse, bureau of plant industry, will leave this week for points in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky to inspect experiments in the culture of cowpeas, soybeans, and other forage plants."
1914 Dec. 4 – Morse writes Prof. Piper: “During my trip to the soy bean district of eastern North Carolina this past fall, I learned that the Southern Cotton Oil Mill, of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, conducted experiments in the fall of 1913 with soy beans as an oil proposition… No doubt by getting in touch with the mill at Elizabeth City, Mr. Dillon could obtain complete information on the experiment.
1917 April 6 – United States enters the European War (Great War; World War I) by declaring war on Germany. Almost overnight, the soybean becomes important as source of flour (especially as an extender for wheat flour) and oil, and as a meat alternative.
1917 – An estimated 460,000 acres of soybeans are grown in the United States in 17 states; this is probably double the acreage of 1916 (Oakley 1918, p. 523-25).
1918 early – Morse writes “The soy-bean industry in the United States” in the Yearbook of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (p. 101-111). In the section titled “Soy beans for human food,” he discusses dried beans, green beans [edamame], soy-bean milk, soy-bean cheese [tofu], soy sauce, and soy-bean sprouts. In a separate section: soybean flour and meal.
1918 July – Morse writes “The soy bean: Its culture and uses,: in Farmers’ Bulletin (USDA) No. 973 (32 p.). For the first time he writes extensively about food uses of soybeans, and the growing interest in soybean foods.
1920 Aug. 31 – Morse writes Prof. Piper from Champaign, Illinois. "My trip this far has been one of the best soy bean trips I have ever experienced. It is remarkable how interest in the soy bean has increased throughout the northern and central states. It is rather gratifying to note how the varieties sent out by our office are taking hold. The Virginia especially is coming into favor… Thursday I leave with Prof. Hackleman by auto for Camden, Indiana, for a visit to the famous soy bean farms of the Fouts Bros. They call it 'Soyland.'”
1920 Sept. 3 – The National Soybean Growers’ Association (renamed American Soybean Association in late 1925) is founded at the farm of Taylor Fouts (named Soyland), in Camden, Carroll Country, Indiana. One thousand people from six states are present at the first “Corn Belt Soy Bean Field Day & Conference.” W.J. Morse was there, seated on the platform, and was ever after considered one of the founding members. The organization was formalized later that year at a business session held in Chicago, Illinois, during the International Livestock Exposition and the International Hay and Grain Show.
1923 Feb.The Soybean, by C.V. Piper and W.J. Morse (xv + 329 p.) is published by McGraw-Hill Book Co. in New York. This classic is the most important book on soybeans and soyfoods published up to that time. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of this work. It contains a 40-page chapter with 26 photographs from East Asia on soybean products for human food, an additional 20 pages of Western-style soyfoods recipes (developed for Morse by the USDA Office of Home Economics in Washington, DC), and a very valuable bibliography containing 563 entries on all aspects of the soybean, worldwide.
1923 Dec. 6 – W.J. Morse, USDA, is elected president of the American Soybean Association (ASA) for one year (1923-24) at the annual winter meting in Chicago, Illinois. He was also elected chair of the “Soybean nomenclature” committee, and chair of the subcommittee on soybean variety registration He was elected president again in 1925 and in 1931. He was a mainstay of support of the ASA from 1920 until his retirement from USDA in1949.
1924-1926 – P.H. Dorsett (with his son, Jim) leads a very important agricultural expedition to East Asia, especially China and Manchuria. He “brought together the largest collection of soybean varieties ever made” (Washington Post, 11 July 1936). Moreover, several of these varieties became ancestors of the most widely grown U.S. soybean varieties (National Research Council 1972, Chap 13).
1925 Sept. 1-3 – The sixth annual field meting of the American Soybean Association is hosted by USDA at Arlington Experimental Farm in Virginia.
1926 Feb. 11 – Dr. Charles Vancouver Piper dies at age 58 in Washington, DC, of kidney failure. He had been an agrostologist at the USDA for 22 years and had been in poor health for two years or more.
1929 Feb. 18 – P.H. Dorsett (age 67) and W.J. Morse (age 45) leave Washington, DC, by train, for a 2-3 year expedition to the Orient. Also on the trip are Morse’s wife, Edna, their daughter, Margaret, and Dorsett’s adopted daughter-in-law, Ruth. Two of the main goals of the expedition are to collect soybean varieties and soybean products, and learn as much as possible about growing and processing soybeans in Japan, Korea, Manchurian, and China. The group sails for Japan on March 1 aboard the President Grant. They arrive in Tokyo on March 18, set up headquarters there, and spend most of the first year in Japan. At the end of each day they type up their notes and add original photographs to their trip report.
1929 Aug. – They travel to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan and center of soybean production, where they study both soybean cultivation and food uses. In December 1929 they return to Tokyo.
1930 April 1 – They travel to Dairen, Manchuria, to study soybean production and oil extraction in the world’s leading center of these activities.
1930 summer – Dorsett leaves Morse in Manchuria and goes to Peiping [Beijing].
1930 Aug. 22 – Morse travels to Korea. On Sept. 29 to Mukden, Manchuria. Then back to Dairen. Oct. 20 he joins Dorsett in Peiping.
1931 Feb. 17 – The Morse party leaves Tokyo by ship to return to the United States, arriving in San Francisco on March 4. The Dorsett party returns home separately from China. The trip was a huge success and the high point of Morse’s career.
Major accomplishments of the expedition:
n (1) Soybean varieties: They collect and send back to the USA 4,451 soybean varieties (PI numbers) of which 986 (22.2%) were still in the USDA germplasm collection in 1981 (R. Bernard, 1981). However none of these are major ancestors of soybean varieties grown in 1972 (National Research Council, 1972, Chap. 13).
n (2) Soybean products: Morse collects, Dorsett photographs, they describe and send back more than 300 soybean products.
n (3) Trip report: The typewritten Log of the Dorsett-Morse Expedition to East Asia, which fills 17 volumes and contains more than 8,818 pages plus about 3,200 glossy black-and-white photo prints, is now at the USDA National Agricultural Library (Beltsville, Maryland), in the Rare and Special Collections.
n (4) Vegetable-type soybeans / Edamame: Morse discovers a new type of soybean. He realizes that Japanese think of vegetable-type soybeans (which are grown by horticulturists and home gardeners, and eaten as a green vegetable – edamame) as completely different from regular soybeans (daizu). He collects more than 100 different edamame varieties, and they soon become popular in the United States (Lloyd & Burlison 1939; Cates 1939).
1932 – Morse finishes his book titled Soybeans – Manchuria (181 pages). Although never published, it is superb.
1936 – P.H. Dorsett is awarded the prestigious Meyer Medal for distinguished service in plant introduction.
1943 April 1 – P.H. Dorsett dies in Washington, DC at age 80. For more than 45 years he had been associated with USDA’s scientific work. He played a leading role in building up six plant introduction gardens throughout the United States.
1946 Sept. – The American Soybean Association., of which Morse was a founder and three times president, awards him an honorary life membership – its highest honor.
1947 Nov. 12 – USDA gives Morse its “Superior Service Award.”
1949 Nov. 30 – W.J. Morse retires after 42 years at the USDA. He and his wife retire to Eastchester, New York, where he lives next door to his daughter, Margaret, and her family, writes and (for a hobby) grows green vegetable soybeans.
1959 July 30 – William J. Morse dies at his home in Eastchester, New York, at age 75. He “had better claim than any other man to the title of founder of the soybean industry in the U.S.” (Agronomy Journal, obituary). In 1958 U.S. soybean production topped 500 million bushels for the first time in history.


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