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Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

When William B. Greeley was appointed as the third chief of the U.S. Forest Service on April 15, 1920, he was already embroiled in a fight over the future of American forestry and private forests. Greeley’s lengthy and distinguished Forest Service career is largely defined by a controversy that — once it was resolved — assured the continued existence of private forests and meant that the United States would not have nationalized forests, as many were advocating in the 1920s and 1930s. In short, the resolution affirmed with whom the Forest Service would do business and what that business was.

Who is William B. Greeley? After reading George T. Morgan Jr.’s biographical study — the first and still the only one of Greeley — I feel like I still don’t know. Sixty-seven pages. That’s all Morgan used to discuss the life and work of Greeley. He moves so swiftly in covering Greeley’s seventy-six years that he doesn’t bother telling us when he was born or when he died. He hits the highlights of his subject’s life but does so in a hagiographic treatment of the forester. To better understand Greeley — and his impact on the Forest Service and forest land management — it’s time for someone to undertake a new examination of this pivotal figure in public and private forestry history.

Born in Oswego, New York, on September 6, 1879, Greeley’s family moved to California when he was eleven. After graduating from the University of California, he went to the Yale School of Forestry, where he made an impression on the school’s dean and his future boss, Henry Graves, before graduating at the top of his class with a master’s degree in forestry in 1904. (Greeley would be the first of several Forest Service chiefs trained at Yale.) He joined the Forest Service that year and quickly rose through the agency’s ranks, making district (what is now regional) forester in the northern Rockies within four years. As he had done with ranchers as a supervisor on the Sequoia National Forest, in District (now Region) 1, he also cooperated with local lumbermen on issues important to them. The Big Blowup of 1910 in Idaho and Montana taught Greeley and others that fire protection and suppression were absolutely necessary to protecting America’s timber. He wrote about the evils of light burning as part of the broader federal campaign to stamp out forest fires and began pushing for private, state, and federal cooperation to deal with the fire “menace.” In time, he would help construct the federal fire policy with which we are in many ways still grappling.

William B. Greeley, USFS chief, 1920-28

No, it's not Harry Potter. It's Forest Service chief William Greeley, who served from 1920 to 1928.

Transferred to Washington in 1911 as chief of the Branch of Forest Management (or Silviculture), Greeley found himself in an ideal position to further develop his ideas about public-private cooperation. In 1917, he argued in his landmark report Some Public and Economic Aspects of the Lumber Industry that lumbermen were overcutting not out of malicious intent or greed, but because of necessity: his research showed severe competition, overinvestment, and inappropriate tax laws forced their hands. (more…)

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Ninety years ago today, on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 am Paris time, an armistice treaty was signed between the Allies and Germany, officially ending WWI on the Western Front and marking victory for the Allied forces.

To further mark the historical significance of November 11th, we would like to announce the launch of a new World War I-focused digital project. In our new digital collection, we have chosen to explore the importance of timber to the Allied military operations in Europe.  Timber was critical to the war effort, and this wasn’t only because of the protection it could provide front-line snipers:

German Sniper

From American Forestry, April 1918

In constant demand for almost every phase of Allied military operations, wood was used for building roads and railroads, constructing barracks, erecting telephone poles, supporting trenches, and numerous other building and construction projects.  To meet these demands, the U.S. Army formed two forestry engineering regiments (the 10th and 20th Engineers) and recruited experienced foresters, loggers, and sawmill workers from around the country to fill their ranks, many from the U.S. Forest Service.  The 10th and 20th Engineers maintained operations in various areas of France’s forestlands throughout the war, managing forest growth, felling timber, and operating sawmills.  The men of these regiments were able to streamline the process of producing wood for the Allied forces, and proved to greatly exceed all expectations of production.

WWI header

A new featured page on the FHS website provides access to a wealth of primary source materials and historical essays from various collections documenting the work done by the 10th and 20th Forestry Engineers during WWI.  So please take some time to explore World War I: 10th and 20th Forestry Engineers and learn more about the important role played by these forestry troops in securing victory for the Allies in the Great War.

For those interested in forestry-related activity on the homefront, be sure to read the September 3 post on “World War I Photos” and visit the associated photo galleries.

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As historic photographs in the FHS collections are digitized and added to our online image database, photos are also periodically grouped into browsable online galleries organized by subject.  The newest gallery, just added to our website, features images relating to World War I.  Much of this set is made up of photos documenting the important behind-the-scenes war work done by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.  Workers at the laboratory performed tests and experiments on all types of wood products used by American soldiers.  Items such as the wooden boxes and packing crates designed for transporting mortar shells were built and tested at the laboratory.

The strength of these boxes was thoroughly put to the test by a giant, 27 ton rotating metal drum used at the Laboratory.  This drum effectively measured the durability of the wooden boxes and crates built to transport various war materials such as shells, bombs, and foodstuffs.

The Laboratory also conducted much of the American aircraft-related research done during the war, such as testing wooden airplane wings and propellers.  One project involved testing the effectiveness of propellers made from different species of wood under closely controlled conditions.  (For more information on wooden aircraft during WWI, see “Wooden Aircraft and the Great War” from the October 1978 issue of the Journal of Forest History).

The work done by the Laboratory did not end with WWI, as even today wood products play a role in military efforts.  In 2006, the Forest Products Laboratory performed tests on the wooden propellers of the Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aircraft, which are currently used by the U.S. Army for reconnaissance and surveillance in Iraq.

Visit the complete World War I gallery here.
Browse previously posted photo galleries, organized by subject here.

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