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Dillon S. Myer Oral History Interview, Chap V-VIII

Oral History Interview with
Dillon S. Myer

Director, War Relocation Authority, 1942-46; Commissioner, Federal Public Housing Administration, 1946-47; president, Institute of Inter-American Affairs, 1947-50; Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1950-53.

Berkeley, California
July 7, 1970
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (Helen S. Pryor interviewer)

Chapters V through VIII

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Dillon S. Myer Chapters]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview donated to the Harry S. Truman Library. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word, although some editing was done.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between the Regents of the University of California and Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer, dated July 7, 1970. The manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer until January 1, 1980. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of the Bancroft Library of the University of California.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, and should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal agreement with Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer requires that they be notified of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.

Opened July, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Dillon S. Myer Chapters]


Oral History Interview with
Dillon S. Myer


Berkeley, California
July 7, 1970
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (Helen S. Pryor interviewer)

Chapters V through VIII




DSM: I resigned my position at the University of Kentucky effective February 1, 1916 and after a month’s training with three older county agents in Indiana, one week each, I reported to Evansville as a young inexperienced county agent on March 1, 1916.

I was fortunate in that I had been assigned to work for a week with Clarence Henry in Allen County who had been a county agent there for some time and with Cal Mclntosh in Green County, Indiana, and later with Roy Marshall in Gibson County which was just to the north of Vanderburgh County. I learned a great deal from all three of these men about the technique of county agent work which was not generally available excepting through experience and word of mouth from an agent who had had experience, because there weren’t too many agents in those days and there was very little on the record about the work of county agents.

Before reporting for duty at Evansville, I asked the county agent leader Mr. Tom Coleman what
I should do. He said "Go down and go to work. You know as much about the job as I do." So I was on my own in a strange country, but I soon found friends.

The township trustees who were also the county school board or the county board of education rather were responsible for the approval of the county agent. Most of them were quite helpful once I had been approved and was on the job. They helped to arrange meetings for the purpose of getting acquainted.

The county superintendent of schools, Mr. Floyd Ragland, was a real friend and supporter. He was a valuable advisor to a young upstart of twenty-five years who was assuming to advise farmers regarding the problems of crops, livestock production and marketing, and the establishing of 4H Club program.


In those days there was a requirement that $500 be raised locally in the county to provide for office furnishing before Purdue University would recommend a county agent for the job and before putting in state and federal funds to help pay the county agent’s salary. In the case of Vanderburgh County the Evansville Courier, which was the leading newspaper in that part of the state, took on the task of helping to raise the money through small subscriptions from farmers and others and I think actually put up about half of the $500 themselves in order to meet the requirement of the $500 fund.

The office which was assigned to the county agent was in the courthouse just next door to the sheriff’s office on a main corridor and across from the County Clerk’s office. It was well located and quite satisfactory, from the standpoint of giving a new county agent a chance to get acquainted with people, because of the easy access.

The office, of course, had to be equipped throughout. We bought desks, chairs, typewriter, files, tables, and all of the accoutrements of a normal office plus some bookcases that I had made by a carpenter or cabinetmaker and a bulletin rack which would hold thirty-two bulletins which lay flat in a pocket which was tilted so that they were easy to see and easy to read. This provided the kind of bulletin distribution center which helped get people acquainted with what literature was available in the various agriculture fields.

I also had purchased a number of text and reference books in the various fields that I thought would be helpful. I laid in a supply of Purdue and U.S. Agriculture Department bulletins for reference work. I found that all of these things came in very handy later because there were many times that I needed to look up information which I did not have at hand.

I found one small publication from the University of California that was written by B.H. Crocheron who was Agriculture Extension Director in California, on the subject of county agent work in Humbolt County, California. This publication was the only one of its


type that I know of in existence at that time. Director Crocheron had described in simple language
and quite completely the everyday work of the county agent in a California county, including a description of various types of method demonstration which taught people how to do things with their hands or with equipment; also result demonstrations which involved getting the cooperation of some good farmer to plant crops or to carry out certain practices that would end up in the kind of results that could be brought to the attention of people through a meeting at a later date, to view the results or to discuss the results. He also discussed the use of farm visits, and office calls, project meetings, general meetings and other techniques that had been used by the county agent in Humbolt County.

I found this publication tremendously helpful because as I have pointed out earlier, excepting for the contact I had had with the three county agents that I had spent some time with before I came on the job in Indiana and some general knowledge that I had gathered during the two years while I was in Kentucky I had no very specific information regarding the job of a county agent. This particular bulletin gave me the idea that I should map out a program of my own and I began to lay plans for various types of projects which I thought were adaptable to Vanderburgh County and made plans for carrying out these projects.

More About Kentucky

DSM: I would like to revert to my experience at the University of Kentucky briefly. I found that during my experience in county agent work that the knowledge that I had gained as a specialist in the Agronomic field, especially my work with wheat varieties and with fertilizer plots and with the soy bean varieties which I had charge of under the general


supervision of Ed Kinny during the last year I was in Kentucky, was highly valuable because the soy bean crop was new and not generally familiar to farmers throughout the country.

My Only Scientific Publication

DSM: Also I have forgotten to mention the fact that the only scientific publication that I ever have been a party to was published while I was at the University. On my first visit to Lexington to be looked over by Prof. Roberts and Prof. Kinny, we had taken a trip over the farm and on the way back we walked through a small five-acre alfalfa field where we found many dead alfalfa plants. Upon examination we realized that there was a disease that was causing this trouble.

After I arrived on the job I signed up for a course in Plant Pathology under Prof. Gilbert in the Botany Department and we discussed this particular disease. After some discussion Prof. Roberts suggested that we make this a project of my course with Prof. Gilbert and that we prepare a bulletin on it. So as a result we proceeded to do so.

Prof. Gilbert had some knowledge of German and I had had a little, very little. We found that about the only literature in the field which had to do with the particular disease that we found in the alfalfa field was German literature. So night after night we went out to Prof. Gilbert’s office and I would help to look up the meaning of words as he found that he didn’t quite know the meaning and he did the translating thus we hammered out a translation of the publications that we found in this field and I think we did a very good job of it.

Following that then Prof. Gilbert did some laboratory work and checking out the microscopic


work and so on that needed to be done and since I was traveling occasionally around the state I did the field observation work and the contacts throughout the state as to the spread of this disease in alfalfa and clover. As a result we came up with a publication entitled "Stem Rot of Clovers and Alfalfa as a Cause of Clover Sickness" by A.H. Gilbert and D.S. Myer.

The particular disease that we had found was known scientifically as Sclerotinia Trifoliorum. This was a fungus and the name came from the fact that they were resting bodies at a certain stage in the life cycle of the disease known as Sclerotinia. They were a dark blueish or purplish type of nodule that we found in the alfalfa field when we first discovered the disease at the University of Kentucky.

I got so interested at this particular stage in this particular disease as well as in plant pathology generally that I considered going to Cornell University and taking graduate work in this field with the expectation of becoming a specialist in the field. I’m very fortunate that I decided not to do so because I realized later that I never would have had the patience or the continued interest in doing the careful scientific laboratory work that was necessary in order to be a top plant pathologist.

However, this was a worthwhile experience and it did stimulate my interest in the field of plant diseases and plant problems, and led me to do a good deal of reading and research in this field which was helpful to me in my county agent work.

Soil Fertility Theories

DSM: There is one other phase of my work at the University of Kentucky that I found helpful after I left the University and got into county agent work. There was a wide difference of opinion among


scientists throughout the world on what was causing some of the problems in the field of soil fertility. There were about five different major theories extant at that time and each of the folks who had developed a theory were very adamant in their belief that they were right about what was causing problems in the reduction of crop yields.

One of them concerned the lack of fertilizer elements and particularly the lack of phosphate. Prof. Hopkins at the University of Illinois was a great advocate of the use of rock phosphate in its natural state, simply ground rock phosphate, when applied with clover and legume crops turned under would do very well in the black soils of Illinois and consequently he had a tendency to ascribe most of the ills of crop production to lack of phosphates.

On the other hand, Dr. Bolley of the University of North Dakota who had the problem of trying to find the answer to their so-called Flax Sickness, learned that through crop rotation they could continue to grow flax, provided that they did rotate crops over a period of four or five years and not put the same crop in the same soil year after year. As a consequence of his studies in this field he began to insist through his writings that the limitation on crop production and the lowering of yields was due almost entirely to plant disease.

Prof. Whitney of the Bureau of Soils and Chemistry in Washington had developed a so-called toxic theory in which he insisted that the growth of crops in the soil had over a period of time gradually thrown off a toxic substance and that it was this toxic condition that was causing reduced yields. He felt very strongly about his theory.

A scientist at the Rothamstead Experiment Station in England had developed an amoeba theory in which he said that there was a type of amoeba in the soil that was seemingly on the increase after crops were grown for a number of years that caused the trouble.

My own Prof. George Roberts believed that there were various reasons for reduced crop yields depending


upon the type of soils and their condition. He was an advocate in areas of clay soil in particular of the use of acid phosphate instead of rock phosphate and of other mineral fertilizers in areas where they were needed. For example in muck land he felt potash should be used but not necessarily in clay lands. He felt that on clay lands if you grew legumes and the land was properly limed, if it needed lime, to grow legumes normally about all you would need was phosphate because the legumes would provide the nitrogen and there was generally ample potash in the soil that could be made available if it had the