Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

Archives Collections List

Charles Fletcher Swingle (1899–1978)

Horticulturist. Plant explorer, Nursery Stock Investigation, Bureau of Plant Industry, U.S.D.A.

Papers and films, 1888–[1928–1966]

HI Archives collection no. 166
Four boxes

Swingle, Charles Fletcher
Examining Euphorbia intisy from southern Madagascar
No date.
HI Archives portrait no. 5

Biographical note
Charles Fletcher Swingle served in various positions (1922–1935) from field assistant to associate pomologist for Nursery Stock Investigation, Bureau of Plant Industry (B.P.I.), U.S.D.A., performing research in the laboratory, field, and greenhouse on methods and materials of plant propagation, especially studies on vegetable propagation and fruit tree understocks. In 1927–28, while a collaborator with the B.P.I., Swingle worked in Leeds, England, with J. H. Priestly and investigated gardeners’ training schools, horticultural and botanical research agencies, and private nurseries in central Europe and also served as the U.S. representative to the Eighth International Horticultural Congress, Vienna.  In 1928 Swingle and Professor Henri Humbert of the University of Algiers explored Madagascar where they found Euphorbia intisy, previously believed extinct, as well as other rubber plants, Kalanchoe and other ornamentals, and other plants.

From July 1935 to August 1943, Swingle served with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service (S.C.S.). He was horticulturist for the S.C.S. in Washington, DC (July 1935–August 1939), responsible for the establishment and administration of a nationwide S.C.S. nursery system.  He then became horticulturist and nursery manager for the S.C.S. in Manhattan, Kansas (September 1939–August 1943), in charge of the routine operation of one of the largest nurseries of the S.C.S. He assisted in tree- and grass-seed production, as well as grass-seed collection and research, with the goal of obtaining new crops, especially nuts, plums, and berries, for use throughout the Great Plains. 

From November 1943 to June 1945, Swingle served as assistant director of War Hemp Industries, Inc., Milkweed Floss Division, in Petoskey, Michigan. His objective was to collect milkweed pods for servicemen’s life jackets, as the kapok supply in the Dutch East Indies had been cut off by the Japanese. Swingle supervised the nationwide collection of pods by schoolchildren and others and enlisted the cooperation of various agriculture-related bodies.  He spent June 1945 to September 1947 at the Estacion Agricola Experimental, Tingo Maria, Peru, as Senior Horticulturist, Office of Foreign Agricultural Relations, U.S.D.A. His duties there were to establish and operate an Amazon Valley experimental station run jointly by the U.S.D.A. and the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture.  The station’s function was the introduction and testing of both general and tropical plants, including rubber, cinchona, cacao, banana, citrus, and manioc. 

Swingle served as extension horticulturist for the University of Wisconsin and the U.S.D.A. at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, from December 1947 to January 1950, performing extension work with northeastern Wisconsin fruit growers, as well as research and some administration of the Peninsular Branch Experiment Station.  From 1950 to 1955, he was a commercial strawberry grower in Sturgeon Bay.

Swingle, Charles Fletcher
Date:1965 (at age 66)
Location: California
HI Archives portrait no. 1

Scope and content note
The earliest items in the collection include 36 postcards (1888–1909) to Swingle’s half-brother, the famous horticulturist Walter T. Swingle, as well as from M. A. Carleton, J. B. Ellis, A. S. Hitchcock, B. L. Robinson, and others, including what is perhaps David Fairchild’s first announcement (1898) of Barbour Lathrop’s proposal that they collaborate. There is also a card (1898) from Swingle in Naples to his father concerning the caprification of figs.  In addition, there are 12 letters (1900–1904) to Swingle from Willet M. Hays at the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experimental Station.

The earliest items concerning Charles F. Swingle include his notebook (1918) from Kansas State University containing descriptions and drawings of grasses and a copy of his “thesis” (1922, 7 pp.) on “The Improvement of Commercial Fruit Varieties,” prepared for his examination for the post of Junior Plant Breeder.  Material from the B.P.I. period includes correspondence, photographs, memoranda, notes, reports, and a sample of E. intisy rubber. This material concerns preparation for the Madagascar trip, subsequent experiments in the U.S. with E. intisy propagation, and related subjects, including Swingle’s introduction (ca.1931) of the drought-resistant Arizona tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifilium var. latifolius) into Madagascar, which came to constitute a main famine-reserve food for south Madagascar.  Correspondents for the Madagascar material include Leon Croizat, Raymond DeCary, Henri Humbert, Henri Perrier de la Bathie, Knowles A. Ryerson, H. A. A. Van der Lek, and missionaries stationed in Madagascar.  Also included in this B.P.I. material are Swingle’s “confidential” report (n.d., 26 pp.) to the U.S.D.A. concerning the trip; typescript copies of his reports concerning his work at BPI; a series of letters (July 1927–April 1928) to his chief at B.P.I., L. C. Corbett, reporting on his work while at Leeds and traveling in Europe for B.P.I.; his report (n.d., 14 pp.) on the 1927 Vienna Horticultural Congress; and a confidential report (n.d., 6 pp.) by R. G. Hatton, the English pomologist, concerning a trip (1925–1926) to investigate U.S. fruit research, in which he concludes that “American methods of hustle, striking as they are on the surface… are not always the soundest ones.”

Papers of the S.C.S. period include an almost complete series (April 1939–December 1943, copies) of monthly progress reports for the Manhattan nursery, all but one by Swingle, as well as various correspondence, notes, memoranda, photographs, other reports, and printed material (1939–1942) by Swingle and others concerning S.C.S. work, particularly that relating to graft hybrids, willows, Juniperis ashei, the shipmast locust, and the yellow cottonwood. 

The War Hemp Industries material includes correspondence, printed publicity material, and some publications on milkweed. The Tingo Maria material includes correspondence, reports, memoranda, printed items, and films relating to Swingle’s work there. The items concerning extension horticulture at the University of Wisconsin include a small amount of correspondence as well as reports and notes on work with cherries and two annual reports (1948–1949, 1949–1950) by Swingle on “Fruit Extension in Northeastern Wisconsin.” There is also material relating to the unexpected curtailment of Swingle’s position in 1950, including his own notes that he “had not entered into the longstanding feud between the horticulture and plant pathology departments,” instead concentrating upon the growers. Also included are a mimeographed letter (1950, 6 pp.) to the Dean of the University of Wisconsin Agricultural School, signed by many growers and processors, stressing the need to retain Swingle, and a copy of a letter of the same date from Swingle to the Dean, discussing the situation. 

There is little material concerning Swingle’s years as a commercial strawberry grower at Sturgeon Bay. From this period is a copy (1954) of objectives, curriculum, and financial estimates for a proposed School of Tropical Agriculture, which Swingle and E. M. Hildebrand hoped to establish in Houston.

Other resources
Individual portraits of this subject are available from the Hunt Institute portrait collection. Thumbnails of the individual portrait holdings are available as a PDF for research purposes. For publication-quality images, contact the Archivist to place an order.

Biographical citations for this subject are available from the Hunt Institute biographical collection as a PDF.

Swingle, Charles Fletcher
Carried in a filazana.
Date: August 1928 (at age 29)
Location: Madagascar
HI Archives portrait no. 2

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