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Home / Exhibits


This is a legacy page. Please see for the updated exhibit website.

These exhibits highlight the rare books and manuscript collections held by Special Collections. They focus on agriculture and natural history and on individuals and organizations that made significant contributions to those fields. The current exhibits are located on the first floor of the National Agricultural Library.

Ongoing Exhibits
Isbell Seed Catalog Cover. Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection. Special Collections. Theme Gardening

NAL's lobby exhibits feature current trends in gardening. Subject covered include gardening for native wildlife and growing heirloom fruits and vegetables.

Bodmer Lodge. Skin Lodge. An Illustrated Expedition of North America: Bodmer and Maximilian in the American West

In 2001, Special Collections mounted an exhibit on the first floor of the library on naturalist and writer Prince Maximilian Alexander Philipp of Wied-Neuwied and Swiss artist Karl Bodmer who traveled through the American West from 1832-1834. They recorded the American landscape, the plants and animals, and the cultures of the human inhabitants. When they returned to Europe, Maximilian's journal was published accompanied by an atlas of Bodmer's illustrations. This exhibit contains an account and map of their journey along with reproductions of seven of the illustrations.

Mark Catesby Bird Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands

Special Collections opened an exhibit on Mark Catesby in 2000 on the first floor of the library. English born, Catesby (1682-1749) was the first naturalist to document North American plants and animals. His life's work, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, published 1731-1748, contains 220 etched plates as well as detailed descriptions of flora and fauna. It is considered one of the great achievements of 18 th century science and art. This exhibit features 14 images by Catesby.

Fragaria sp. Omega From the Old Comes the New: Variety Development

A selection of the 7,584 paintings that compose the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection hang in the library’s Main Reading Room. USDA artists documented new species of fruits and nuts sent to the Department from farmers, growers, and plant explorers during the late 1880s to the early 1900s. The exhibit shows exacting representations of old varieties of fruits paired with new varieties of fruits illustrated by USDA ARS photographers. Digital images of all paintings are available on the National Agricultural Library Digital Collections website.

Thomas Jefferson Letter Thomas Jefferson Correspondence Collection

In 1993, correspondence of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, was discovered in the collection of USDA historian Everett Edwards. The eleven letters were to, from, and about Thomas Jefferson (1786-1819). This exhibit consists of two letters. One concerns the exchange of millet seed and Persian melon seed; the other concerns Jefferson's invention of the mould board plough.

Wall exhibits in the multi-purpose room and the staff conference room complement the Thomas Jefferson Correspondence Collection and emphasize Jefferson's strong ties to the land. A collage of photographs of Monticello, which Jefferson designed, and a model of the mould board plough which Jefferson invented--together with letters to and from Jefferson on agricultural matters--illustrate his roles as author, architect, and agriculturalist. Images from rare books depict some of the many kinds of fruits and ornamental plants he grew.

Electronic Exhibits
Smokey Bear Smokey Bear Exhibit

Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service’s popular icon of wildfire prevention, was created during World War II to publicize the need to protect a critical natural resource—wood. To combat the incidence of human-caused forest fires, the U.S. Forest Service established the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program in 1942. The CFFP adopted Smokey as its official symbol two years later. Smokey Bear’s famous slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” was added in 1947 by the Wartime Advertising Council, known today as the Ad Council.

Cover of a calendar provided to customers of Schimmelpfennig's Mill in 1944. Schimmelpfennig Family Mill Collection. Schimmelpfennig Family Mill Collection Exhibit

The National Agricultural Library recognized Preservation Week, May 9-15, 2010, with an exhibit of the Schimmelpfennig Family Mill Collection. The collection contained a variety of materials related to the business of the family's grain mill, to their interest in visiting and preserving other grain mills across the country, and to family life in Sigourney, Iowa, from 1929-2001.

Bodmer Lodge An Illustrated Expedition of North America: Bodmer and Maximillian in the American West

In 1832 naturalist Prince Maximilian, ruler of Neuwied, Prussia conducted an early expedition to the American West...

Cows in dairy barn from Emerson Brooks Papers Early Developments in the American Dairy Industry

In the early 1600s immigrants brought cattle from Europe to supply their families with dairy products and meat. Although many different breeds were imported through the next centuries, it was not until the late 1800s that breeds were developed specifically for dairy purposes.

Hybrid Popcorn in Indiana Popcorn: Ingrained in America's Agricultural History

Everyone seems to love popcorn. Although Americans are now such avid consumers of popcorn, and its agricultural history is long, its commercial history is comparatively short.

Portrait of Frank Meyer Frank N. Meyer (1875-1918)

From 1904-1918, Frank Nicholas Meyer was a plant explorer for USDA's Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction. Meyer spent most of his time on plant expeditions to Europe and Asia. He was credited with over 2,500 plant introductions, which included persimmons, apricots, peaches, grapes, cabbages, bamboo, and ornamental plants.

Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln and Agriculture

On May 15, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress establishing "at the seat of Government of the United States a Department of Agriculture."

Past Exhibits
A&P Potato Week When Beans Were Bullets

When Beans Were Bullets was a collaborative poster exhibit between curator and public historian Cory Bernat and the National Agricultural Library in 2010. Bernat examined the evolution of poster styles, propaganda messages and advertising history during the two time periods through displaying 80 poster reproductions on fence panels. She highlighted the dramatic difference in style and content that emerged between the two wars, as emotional appeal displayed a fact-based industry.

Overview of exhibit space, Main Reading Room, National Agricultural Library. Floral Expressions in Stone and Print exhibit. Jack Floral Expressions in Stone and Print

Special Collections collaborated with local sculptor, John Jayson Sonnier, to mount an exhibit from May-August 2008 featuring botanical sculptures and related prints from NAL's Rare Book Collection. More...

Grapes Inspiration and Translation: Botanical and Horticultural Lithographs of Joseph Prestele and Sons

In March 2006, a collaborative exhibit between the National Agricultural Library and the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh opened at NAL.

The exhibit explores the work of Joseph Prestele and his three sons, all of whom were botanical illustrators and lithographers. The exhibition was on display at the Hunt Institute from September through December 2005 and was on display at the NAL through 15 June 2006 in the main reading room on the first floor.

For more details, see the Hunt Institute Web site.

Palemon Howard Dorsett USDA Plant Collectors: Plant Exploration in Asia

Special Collections mounted an exhibit on the first floor of the library in 2001 on Palemon Howard (P. H.) Dorsett (1862-1943), a USDA plant explorer and William Joseph Morse, a USDA soybean expert. From 1929-1932, Dorsett and Morse took a joint plant expedition to Japan, Korea, and Manchurian China. The Dorsett-Morse Expedition resulted in 9,000 new plant accessions, of which one half were soybeans. It also resulted in a travel journal and photographs which together constitute a priceless documentary of the architecture, industry, and culture of the countries in which they traveled. This exhibit features photographs and commentary from the journal.