Dewey Index

Towards the end of the 19th century, the work of the USDA became more specialized and more Divisions were established: Forestry in 1880, Pomology in 1886, Fiber Crops in 1890, Vegetable Pathology in 1890, and Agrostology in 1895.

In the early 1900s, Lyster H. Dewey, the USDA botanist in charge of fiber plant investigations, created a collection called the “Dewey Index.” Over the next 3 decades, the Dewey Index grew to thousands of index cards and thousands of indexed publications and reprints as USDA fiber specialists researched, traveled, and observed commercial production of fiber and fiber research projects around the world.

When USDA plant research work began at Arlington Experimental Farm in 1900, Virginia fiber plants were included, and research on them gradually became a greater part of the activity. Lyster Dewey spent much of his time at “Arlington Farm,” as it was commonly known, researching new plants and doing breeding work to develop new varieties that would meet the needs of American farmers.

Research on fiber plants other than cotton was sadly discontinued in 1965, and the scientists who worked with fiber plants were transferred to other work. All of the records were being kept by researchers in their various offices. Fortunately the fiber plant records were collected and moved to the National Agricultural Library in 1984 to ensure their preservation as a unit.