USDA Fruit Laboratory Card Files

Index card containing handwritten data about Salome apple from 1902

Introduction

The content of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Fruit Laboratory Card Files covers the period from the 1700s to the 1960s, with the bibliographic reference cards produced between 1901 and the 1940s. The collection occupies 16 linear feet of shelf space. In the 1990s, the National Agricultural Library (NAL) Reference Services Unit transferred filing cabinets containing the index cards from its ready reference area to Special Collections.

The materials in the collection are in fair to good condition and may be used with staff assistance in the Special Collections reading room. A number of the fruit history cards contain folded pages or taped clippings, some of which are fragile (deteriorated). The index cards were removed from the original filing cabinet drawers and housed in acid-free boxes. Some of the publications referenced by the card authors exist as part of NAL's general collection or the rare book collection.

This collection was arranged and described by Ellen Mann, Jeff Maier, and Sara Lee from 2010-2020.

Historical Sketch

1901

Division of Pomological Investigations established as Bureau of Plant Industry successor to Division of Pomology. Subsequently divided into Office of Pomological Collections and Office of Field Investigations in Pomology. Office of Horticultural Investigations established to coordinate work at Arlington (Virginia) Experimental Farm.

1913

Office of Horticultural and Pomological Investigations established, 1913, by consolidation of Office of Horticultural Investigations, Office of Pomological Investigations, and Office of Field Investigations in Pomology.

ca. 1926

Office of Horticultural and Pomological Investigations re-designated Office of Horticulture

1928

Office of Horticultural Crops and Diseases established by consolidation of Office of Horticulture; Office of Crop Physiology and Breeding; Office of Fruit Diseases; Office of Vegetable and Forage Diseases (except cotton and forage disease work); Pathological Laboratory (except tobacco disease and photographic units); and physiological section of Office of Plant Geography and Physiology.

1933

Office of Horticultural Crops and Diseases re-designated Division of Fruit and Vegetable Crops and Diseases.

1946

Assigned as a divisional component to Fruit and Vegetable Crops and Specialized Divisions, Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering.

1947

Assigned as a divisional component to successor Horticultural Crops and Forest Diseases.

1951

Divided into Division of Fruit and Nut Crops and Diseases and Division of Vegetable Crops and Diseases in the Horticultural Crops Group.

1953

Became Fruit and Nut Crops Section and Vegetable Crops Section, respectively, in Horticultural Crops Research Branch, Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Scope and Content Note

The USDA Fruit Laboratory Card Files span the 1700s to the 1960s, with the bulk of the material produced between 1901 and the 1940s. The index cards as a whole comprise a reference system in which multiple boxes in the collection may be used to trace information on one fruit variety. The information recorded on these cards contains references to data on original citation sources, varietal origins, history, characteristics, growers, nursery catalogs, lineage, and ratings as well as hand transcribed excerpts from original literature.

This collection is largely comprised of apple related data. Cards do document varieties of the following types of fruit and nuts: almond, apple, apricot, avocado, banana, bush fruits, carissa, cherimoyer, cherry, chicle, citrus, crab apple, date, feijoa, fig, grape, guava, jujube, kai apple, loquat, mango, medlar, mulberry, nectarine, nuts, olive, pawpaw, papaya, pear, peach, persimmon, pineapple, plum, plumcot, pomegranate, quince, sapota, star apple, strawberry, and walnut.

The materials make up five series based on the original card catalog drawer numbers and subjects. Gaps in series numbering are present and reflected in the Series Description.

Besides the index cards, there is a notebook ‘Condensed Apple Book for Use in the Orchard’ recorded by A.A. (Archibald A.) Schenck. This notebook (box 114) contains coded information for over 10,000 varieties of apple. Schenck included this information in his 2,016-page manuscript “Descriptions of Apples,” circa 1900.

W. H. (William Henry) Ragan (1836-1909), who compiled Nomenclature of the Apple; a catalogue of the known varieties referred to in American publications from 1804 to 1904, collected information from many different sources on subjects such as, orchards, grafting, the oldest tree, and the largest apple. He also compiled information on a large number of old varieties of apples. Although not part of this manuscript collection, Special Collections houses in its rare book collection a copy of Ragan’s Nomenclature of the Apple annotated by Schenck, including handwritten notes and newspaper clippings. Ragan’s name appears as recorder on many of the index cards in this collection. There are other recorders as well, such as R. (Edward Ralph) Lake (b.1860). Some signatures are illegible.

Index cards containing bibliographic information about nursery and seed trade companies by state and country were initially located with this collection. During the mid-1900s, National Agricultural Library staff indexed the catalogs. It is probable that these catalogs served as a source of fruit descriptions. The plant entries in the catalogs were copied onto index cards by USDA fruit laboratory staff. See the related collection – MS 120 Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection.

The Fruit History Cards (Series 9) contains historical information on the apple, peach, pear and plum, small fruit, nuts, and citrus. Small fruits described are blackberry, cherry, currant, elderberry, gooseberry, grape, raspberry, and strawberry. Nuts and citrus include almond, avocado, date, orange and other citrus, pomegranate, and nuts. Many of the cards are handwritten. Some articles with citations are pasted on cards. This file is a source of historical data on apples and apple growing.

Series Description

Series 1A. Untitled Fruit Series. 51 boxes.

The index cards in this series contain notes on the basic characteristics of each type of fruit and abbreviations of publications in which there is an entry about the fruit. Fruits included are apple, crab apple, cherry, pear, peach, plum, nuts, citrus, grape, fig, strawberry, bush fruit, and miscellaneous fruit. Handwritten entries on the index cards are coded according to the format represented in “Code to citation on general fruit variety card file” (Referred to as Box 1A-a). Fruit cards are housed in alphabetical order by type of fruit, then alphabetical order by variety name within the same type of fruit. Cards are preprinted with the categories of name, synonym, classification (class, order, section, sub sec.), description (season, size, quality, use, origin), date of introduction, authorities describing, where illustrated, and journal number. Cards are 5” x 3”.

Series 1B. Index to Apple Varieties compiled by A. A. Schenck. 50 boxes.

These typewritten cards list apple variety names and abbreviated literature citations. Box number 1 contains the code definitions for literature citations. The cards are arranged alphabetically by variety name, followed by coded literature citations. Cards are 5” x 3”.

Series 4. Fruit Varieties Notes. 1946-. 5 boxes.

Cards include descriptions and sources of information on many fruits and nuts: almond, apple apricot, avocado, banana, bitternut, blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, butternut, and walnut, and more. The cards are arranged alphabetically by variety name. Additionally, this series includes American Pomological Society Reports, 1920-1951. Cards are 6.5” x 4”.

Series 5B-a. Catalog Varieties 1943-1959. 16 boxes.

This series, more aptly named ‘Varieties in Nursery Catalogs’, indicates the presence of a variety in a particular U.S. nursery company’s catalog. Fruits include apple, bush cherry, crabapple, cranberry, gooseberry, peach, plum, quince, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, grape, apricot, blackberry, and tangelo. The cards are arranged alphabetically by variety name. Cards measure 6” x 4”. Note that many of the original works cited in this series are held in MS 120 Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection.

Series 5B-b. Catalog Varieties (Canada – 1943-1959). 3 boxes.

This series, more aptly named ‘Varieties in Nursery Catalogs’, indicates the presence of a variety in a particular Canadian nursery company’s catalog. Fruits and nuts include almond, butternut, cherry, nectarine, pawpaw, etc. The cards are arranged alphabetically by variety name, almond through strawberry. Cards measure 6” x 4”. Note that many of the original works cited in this series are held in MS 120 Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection.

Series 7A. New Fruit Varieties 1856-1918. 2 boxes.

Varieties of all kinds of fruits listed on cards and arranged by year. It includes, but is not limited to, apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, plum, citrus, and more. The cards are arranged alphabetically by variety name. Cards measure 5” x 3”.

Series 7B. Fruit Descriptions from State Experiment Station Reports. 1901-1917. 2 boxes.

Each card is titled with the state and year of the report; for example, Michigan 1904. The common name of the fruit—apple, cherry, fig, melon, and pear (any other fruit?)—is on the right side of the card. Then the variety is described in full. 5” x 3” cards.

Series 8A. Fruit Varietal Notes. 1946-. 3 boxes.

Notes and sources of information on many fruit including apple, almond, blueberry, walnut. The cards are arranged alphabetically by variety name. Cards measure 5” x 3”.

Series 8B. Fruit & Nut Catalog Varieties (United States) 1960—. 9 boxes.

Gives catalog sources of many fruit including almond, apple, blueberry. The cards are arranged alphabetically by variety name. Cards measure 5” x 3”.

Series 9. Fruit History Cards recorded by W. H. Ragan from the 1900s-1940s [Content described ranges in date between 1700s and 1940s]. 6 boxes.

Index cards include data on description of fruit, productivity, introduction, source of fruit, and source of data. Fruits included are the apple, peach, pear, plum, small fruit (blackberry, cherry, currant, elderberry, gooseberry, grape, raspberry, and strawberry), and tropical and sub-tropical, nuts, and citrus. Most of the handwritten cards from approximately 1902-1908 have Ragan’s name as the recorder. The cards have various recorders, but the majority were composed by W.H. Ragan. The date range of the information cited on the cards is approximately from the 1700s to 1940s. The cards measure 6.5” x 4.”

Container List

Series IA. Untitled Fruit Series.
Box Title/Description
000 Code to Citations on General Fruit Variety Card File, Untitled Fruit Series IA
001 Apples (A-Be)
002 Apples (Be-Bz)
003 Apples ( C )
004 Apples (D-Fa)
005 Apples (Fa-Gr)
006 Apples (Gr-Iz)
007 Apples (J-Le)
008 Apples (Le-Mo)
009 Apples (Mo-Pa)
010 Apples (Pa-Re)
011 Apples (Re-Sa)
012 Apples (Sa-St)
013 Apples (St-Vi)
014 Apples (Vi-Ye)
015 Apples (Ye-Z)
016 Crab Apple
017 Cherry
018 Pear (A-B)
019 Pear (B-D)
020 Pear (D-G)
021 Pear (G-L)
022 Pear (L-P)
023 Pear (P-So)
024 Pear (Sp-Z)
025 Peach (A-Ch)
026 Peach (Ch-F)
027 Peach (G-K)
028 Peach (Ki-N)
029 Peach (O-Sm)
030 Peach (Sm-Z)
031 Plum (A-E)
032 Plum (F-Mo)
033 Plum (Mo-R)
034 Plum (S-Z)
035 Nuts
036 Citrus
037 Grape (A-De)
038 Grape (De-L)
039 Grape (M-Re)
040 Grape (Re-Z)
041 Fig
042 Strawberry (A-J)
043 Strawberry (K-R)
044 Strawberry (S-W)
045 Bush Fruits (A-G)
046 Bush Fruits (H-Z)
047 Miscellaneous
048 Miscellaneous
049 Miscellaneous
050 Miscellaneous
Series IB. Index to Apple Varieties compiled by A. A. Schenck.
Box Title/Description
001 Code
002 A-Be
003 Be-Ca
004 Ca-Cz
005 Da-En
006 Ep-Go
007 Go-He
008 Hi-Ku
009 La-Me
010 Mi-Or
011 Os-Po
012 Po-Re
013 Re-Ru
014 Ru-So
015 Sp-Ti
016 To-Wi
017 Wi-Z and Crab Apples
018 Condensed Apple Book For Use in Orchard (Books 2 and 3)
Series 4. Fruit Varieties Notes. 1920-1951+.
Box Title/Description
001 Apricot, Berries, Nuts, Miscellaneous
002 Cherry-Peach
003 Plumcot-Miscellaneous
004 American Pomological Society Reports, 1920-1951
005 American Pomological Society Reports, 1920-1951, continued
Series 5B-a. Catalog Varieties (United States). 1943-1959.
Box Title/Description
001 Almond, Apple (A-J)
002 Apple (K-W)
003 Apple (W-Z), Blackberry (A-M)
004 Blackberry (N-Z), Cherry (A-M)
005 Cherry (M-Z), Crab Apple (A-R)
006 Crab Apple (R-Z), Gooseberry
007 Grape (A-L)
008 Grape (M-Z), Lemon
009 Lime, Peach (A-E)
010 Peach (E-R)
011 Peach (R-Z), Pear (A-K)
012 Pear (K-Z), Plum (A-F)
013 Plum (G-Z)-Quince (A-O)
014 Quince (P-Z), Strawberry (A-D)
015 Strawberry (D-U)
Series 5B-b. Catalog Varieties (Canada). 1943-1959.
Box Title/Description
001 Almond - Bush Cherry
002 Cherry Plum - Plum (A-L)
003 Plum (M-Z) – Miscellaneous
Series 7A. New Fruit Varieties. 1865-1918.
Box Title/Description
001 Apple, Fig, Pear
002 Cherry, Fig, Melon
Series 7B. Fruit Descriptions from State Experiment Station Reports. 1901-1917.
Box Title/Description
001 Apple, Fig, Pear
002 Cherry, Fig, Melon
[Series 8A]. Fruit Varietal Notes. 1946-
Box Title/Description
001 Almond-Gooseberry
002 Grape-Pear
003 Pear-Walnut
[Series 8B]. Fruit and Nut Catalog Varieties (United States), 1960-.
Box Title/Description
001 Almond-Apple (A-R)
002 Apple (S-Z) – Butternut
003 Calamondian-Feijoa
004 Fig-Lychee
005 Macadamia-Peach (A-K)
006 Peach (K-Z)-Pear (A-M)
007 Pear (N-Z)-Plum
008 Plumcot-Strawberry (A-R)
009 Strawberry (S-Z)-Miscellaneous
Series 9. Fruit History Cards. 1900s-1940s.
Box Title/Description
001 Apple (A-J)
002 Apple (K-V)
003 Apple (W-Z) and Peach
004 Pear and Plum
005 Small Fruits (Blackberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Dewberry, Currant, Elderberry, Gooseberry, Juneberry, Grape, Loganberry, Mulberry, Raspberry)
006 Tropical, Subtropical, Nuts, and Miscellaneous

Selected Bibliography

Sources Used for Finding Aid:

United States, Agricultural History Branch. Century of Service: The First 100 Years of the United States Department of Agriculture. (Washington, DC: Centennial Committee, USDA, 1963).

National Archives and Records Administration. Records of the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering. Record Group 54, 1879-1972 (bulk 1893-1953). https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/054.html#54.3.15

MS 44 - William Coxe Manuscript, 1810-1831.

MS 65 - Bureau of Plant Industry Horticultural and Pomological Investigations Records, 1892-1960.

MS 120 - Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection, 1773-2020.

MS 155 - USDA Small Fruit Improvement Program Records, 1914-1978.

MS 184 - USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection, 1888-1939.

MS 344 - Southmeadow Fruit Gardens Records, 1932-2005.

MS 371 - Palemon Howard Dorsett Persimmon Collection, 1924-1930.

MS 436 - Chico Plant Introduction Station Photograph Collection, 1912-1952.

MS 466 - Laurence Howard MacDaniels Pomological Research Images, 1890-1950.

National Archives and Records Administration contains a number of collections relating to fruit research. The online finding aids catalog may be found at 54.3.15 Records of the Division of Fruit and Vegetable Crops and Diseases accessed here:

https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/054.html#54.3.15

For Further Research on heirloom fruits:

American Pomological Society and United States. Bureau of Plant Industry. Fruits recommended by the American pomological society for cultivation in the various sections of the United States and Canada. Rev. by a Committee of the American Pomological Society, W.H. Ragan, Chairman. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1909. https://archive.org/details/fruitsrecommende151amer

Bussey, Daniel J. and Kent Whealy, ed. The illustrated history of apples in the United States and Canada. 7 volumes. Mount Horeb, WI: JAK KAW Press, LLC., 2016.

Calhoun, Creighton Lee. Old southern apples: a comprehensive and description of varieties for collectors, growers, and fruit enthusiasts. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2011. Revised and expanded.

Downing, A.J. The fruits and fruit-trees of America, or, The culture, propagation and management, in the garden and orchard, of fruit-trees generally: with descriptions of all the finest varieties of fruit, native and foreign, cultivated in this country. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1882.

Ferree, David C. and Lynda E. Chandler. A History of fruit varieties: the American Pomological Society: one hundred fifty years, 1848-1998. Yakima, Washington: Good Fruit Grower Magazine, 1998.

Hogg, Robert. The apple and its varieties: being a history and description of the varieties of apples cultivated in the gardens and orchards of Great Britain. London: Groombridge & Sons, 1859.

Ragan, W.H. (William Henry). “Home vineyard: with special reference to northern conditions.” Farmers’ Bulletin (United States. Department of Agriculture); no. 156. Washington: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1902. https://archive.org/details/CAT87201556

Ragan, W.H. Nomenclature of the Apple; a catalogue of the known varieties referred to in American publications from 1804 to 1904. Washington, D.C. : U.S. G.P.O., 1905. https://archive.org/details/nomenclatureofap56raga

Ragan, W.H. Nomenclature of the Apple; a catalogue of the known varieties referred to in American publications from 1804 to 1904. Bound with A. A. (Archibald A.) Schenck’s handwritten notes and newspaper clippings. Washington, D.C. : U.S. G.P.O., 1905. QK495. N66 1905. Issued January 25, 1905: second edition, July, 1905.

Ragan, W.H. Nomenclature of the Apple; a catalogue of the known varieties referred to in American publications from 1804 to 1904. Washington, D.C. : U.S. G.P.O., 1926.

https://archive.org/details/nomenclatureofap56raga_0/page/360/mode/2up

Ragan, W.H. (William Henry). Varieties of fruits recommended for planting. Washington: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1904. https://archive.org/details/CAT87201635

Schenck, A.A. (Archibald A.). “Condensed Apple Book for Use in the Orchard.” MS 365 -USDA Fruit Laboratory Card Files. Special Collections, National Agricultural Library.