CREATING STANFORD'S FOOD RESEARCH INSTITUTE: HERBERT HOOVER, ALONZO TAYLOR, CARL ALSBERG, J.S. DAVIS, AND M.K. BENNETT
By Bruce F. Johnston, Professor Emeritus
The Two "Hoover Institutes"
When the Food Research Institute (FRI) was established in 1921 by an agreement between the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Stanford University, it was in effect the first "Hoover Institute." In announcing the initial grant for FRI, James R. Angell, President of Carnegie, made it clear that "It is the hope of the Carnegie Corporation that eventually the new organization will be known as the Hoover Institute." The other "Hoover Institute" was referred to at that time as the "Hoover War Library." The annual report of Stanford President Ray Lyman Wilbur for the 1921-22 academic year contained a full report on the Carnegie grant and the new Food Research Institute, but it included only a short paragraph reporting that a designated reading room had been set aside in the new main library for the Hoover War Collection. Today's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace did not acquire that name until 1957, although the building of the Hoover Tower gave the Hoover Library a home of its own in 1941. (A Note on Sources and Personal Recollections at the end of this essay gives a brief description of the main sources used.)
It is difficult at the present time to fully appreciate Hoover's role in promoting his alma mater. The atmosphere of 1921 is captured by an article in the March issue of the Stanford Illustrated Review, predecessor to today's Stanford Magazine. The article--"Food Research Institute of Stanford University: The Carnegie Corporation Has Selected Stanford Out of the Entire Country"--began with this note: "It is not too much to say that the establishment of the Food Research Institute of Stanford University is one of the greatest events in the modern development of the institution."
Given the important role that Hoover and his good friend Stanford President Ray Lyman Wilbur played in the approach to Carnegie, it is clear that the Food Research Institute would not have been created without Hoover's sponsorship and vigorous support. First as Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, then as head of the U.S. Food Administration after this country entered the Great War, and finally as director of the American Relief Administration between 1919 and 1923, Hoover "had become aware as perhaps no other living person, of the need for systematic scientific research on contemporary food problems." The quote is from George H. Nash's 1988 book Herbert Hoover and Stanford University. In 1919 Hoover had worked closely with Alonzo Taylor, his principal expert adviser on food and nutrition questions during and immediately after the war, in drawing up a plan for the organization and funding of a Food Research Institute at Stanford. Quoting Nash again, "Hoover's forceful appeal--and the proximity of his food records--proved persuasive." And early in 1921 the Carnegie Corporation agreed to give Stanford $704,000 over ten years with the understanding that toward the end of that period the Institute's progress would be reviewed as a basis for deciding whether to make a grant for endowment.
Nash further declares that the fact that FRI was created as "one of the first university affiliated research institutions in the country," was a major breakthrough for Stanford. And he is certainly right in saying that "One man above all was responsible; no one else, at that time, could have achieved as much." A remarkable testimony to Hoover's great prestige at that time is provided by a 1920 letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to his friend Josephus Daniels quoted by Carl Degler in his essay "The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover" published in the Summer 1963 Yale Review. The sharp antagonism between FDR and Hoover that was a legacy of the 1932 presidential campaign is well known. In 1920, however, Roosevelt had declared in this letter to Daniels that Herbert Hoover is "certainly a wonder, and I wish we could make him President of the US. There could not be a better one." Hoover had such a close working relationship with Woodrow Wilson that some Democrats were hoping that he would declare as a Democratic candidate for president. In his biography An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover, Richard Norton Smith reports that it was not until March 1920 that Hoover "revealed publicly his allegiance to the GOP."
Although the establishment of FRI depended so heavily on Hoover's initiative and prestige, its future was determined by its three co-directors--Alonzo Taylor, Carl Alsberg, and Joseph S. Davis--and by Merrill K. Bennett. The original directors served together until 1936 when Taylor reached Stanford's compulsory retirement age of 65. A year later Alsberg resigned to become director of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at UC/Berkeley (attracted in part by the fact that he would not face compulsory retirement at Berkeley until age 70). Bennett, who had joined the Institute as a junior research associate in 1923, served as its executive secretary between 1933 and 1941, as executive director from 1942 to 1951, and then (following Davis's retirement) as director from 1952 to 1962. The following section briefly summarizes FRI's activities during those first four decades and describes the four men who provided its leadership during that period. A final section comments on the contrast between Hoover's intense and prolonged involvement in the history of what eventually became the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace and his surprisingly limited role in FRI once the Institute had been established.
The Food Research Institute, 1921-62: Taylor, Alsberg, Davis, and Bennett
When FRI was launched, it was emphasized that it would have three co-directors--an expert in the physiology and chemistry of nutrition, an expert in economics and food distribution, and an expert in the "chemistry of food manufacture and agriculture." That emphasis on co-directors with expertise in those three fields was stressed equally in the Carnegie announcement of financial support and in a New York Herald Tribune article by Hoover. Prior to Hoover's leaving Paris in 1919 to return to the U.S., Alonzo Taylor had prepared a memorandum for Hoover on a proposed Food Research Institute. There was no doubt that Taylor would be one of the three directors, and it seems apparent that Alsberg was an easy choice as both Taylor and Hoover knew him and were familiar with his work in Washington. Alsberg served as Chief of the Bureau of Chemistry between 1912 and 1921, during which time he made important progress in shaping a fledgling bureau of the Department of Agriculture into what would shortly become the Food and Drug Administration. Davis, the youngest of the three directors, was apparently selected on the basis of his record as a graduate student and faculty member at Harvard (1913-21) and because of his work in London with the American Shipping Mission and the Allied Maritime Transport Council (1918-19).
Taylor and Alsberg were both M.D.s but neither of them practiced medicine. Taylor held faculty positions at UC/Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania where he was professor of physiological chemistry and nutrition at the time that he was appointed co-director of FRI. Alsberg completed Medical School at Columbia University at twenty three and then went to Germany for three years of graduate work in pharmacology and biochemistry. He next spent five years on the faculty at Harvard before going to the U. S. Department of Agriculture in 1908. In that year Davis graduated from Harvard where he later received his Ph.D., and he was an assistant professor in the Harvard Economics Department at the time he became the third co-director of FRI
Contemporary observers are in agreement that the three directors worked well together. "Decisions were made in close and friendly collaboration," according to Robert Calkins who was closely associated with FRI between 1925 and 1932 before going on to a distinguished career at UC/Berkeley, Columbia University, and the Brookings Institution. In his chapter in the 1948 book, Carl Alsberg: Scientist at Large, Calkins describes an early and fundamental FRI decision in these terms:
The field of the Institute--research in the production, distribution, and consumption of food--was so broad that its work might well have taken any one of several directions. The first task was to formulate a manageable and fruitful program. At their first meeting, in the spring of 1921, the directors decided to stress economic problems of food production, distribution, and consumption. Rather than investigate a variety of foodstuffs, they decided first to concentrate on a few, and initially on wheat, the leading item of the Occidental diet. All of the directors were convinced that eventually more would be learned about foods if intensive investigations were made of one important commodity, and if the results and experience so acquired were then utilized in the study of others, than if the efforts were dispersed in proceeding, necessarily less intensively, on many fronts at once.
The early and unanimous decision to focus on the economic aspects of world food production, consumption, and distribution is rather remarkable given the fact that Taylor, Alsberg and Bennett did not turn to economics until after joining FRI. During his years as a director of FRI, Alsberg continued to publish papers in professional journals such as the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, most of them based on research in the laboratory facilities of the Chemistry Department and many co-authored with Stanford graduate students. Some of Alsberg's contributions to Wheat Studies, e.g. "Protein Content: A Neglected Factor in Wheat Breeding", reflected his background in biochemistry, but his research and publications dealt increasingly with the economic aspects of commodity policy. Kroeber reports in his chapter in Carl Alsberg: Scientist at Large that Alsberg "spoke of himself as a good scientist turned into a poor economist" (p. 20). My own familiarity with Alsberg's work is based mainly on papers he published in Wheat Studies on "Japan as a Producer and Importer of Wheat" (1930) and "Japanese Self-Sufficiency in Wheat" (1935), both of which are outstanding examples of informative, policy relevant research. There is also general agreement that Alsberg was an exceptionally congenial and stimulating colleague. I am especially aware of W. O. Jones's appreciation for Alsberg's role in initiating the research that Bill carried to completion with his outstanding book on manioc.
Merrill Bennett's contributions to FRI research receives considerable attention in the "History of the Food Research Institute as Seen Through its Publications: A Long View" in Essay 2. It is pertinent to recall, however, that Bennett's initial work with the Institute was as a part-time editor. His Master's degree from Brown University was in English, and he was working toward a Ph.D. in English at Stanford when Davis hired him to edit the work of FRI staff members from non-English-speaking countries. He developed a keen interest in the subject matter of the Institute's research and spent a year as a Weld Fellow at Harvard completing a Master's in Economics before completing his Ph.D. in the Stanford Economics Department in 1927. Both Davis and Bennett wrote exceptionally well and were superb editors. There is a legend, which may well be true, that Davis on occasion edited his incoming mail. Naum Jasny's important volume on The Socialized Agriculture of the USSR: Plans and Performance (1949) is an example of a book that benefited greatly from Bennett's editing. In addition, the impact of that thousand-page book was multiplied by the fact that Bennett prepared an excellent summary of its major findings that was published as a Jasny-Bennett article in the Journal of Political Economy.
On the basis of first-hand experience, I can affirm that Davis and Bennett made outstanding contributions to shaping the FRI's tradition as a body of cooperating scholars, and the reports by Calkins and others make it clear that Alsberg also played a major role as a stimulating and cooperative colleague. In a letter responding to criticism of a 1941 Foreign Affairs article by Karl Brandt, discussed in a subsequent section, Davis emphasized: "Our Institute practice is to read one another's manuscripts in semi-final draft, give the author criticisms and suggestions, and leave it to him to make such use of them as he can." And he further emphasizes that "we consistently endeavor to maintain a high standard of reliability in our work, and to improve our appraisals and interpretations as new evidence appears." Underlying that "Institute practice" was a good deal of mutual respect and interest in each other's work so that the "criticisms and suggestions" that an author received were informed and constructive. Combined with a strong institutional emphasis on bringing research to completion as a publication, that tradition of mutual criticism probably did not limit the quantity of published output and certainly improved its quality.
The original directors were keenly aware of the urgent need "to formulate a manageable and fruitful program" because the Carnegie Corporation's decision about future funding of FRI was to be made at the end of 10 years. By that time FRI's Wheat Studies, which had been launched in 1924, had provided an outlet for much of the Institute's research and, along with some monographs and numerous articles, had earned a solid, worldwide reputation. The work of Holbrook Working and Helen C. Farnsworth, that is described in Essay 2, was already important in those early years. In the 1970s, the Chicago Board of Trade and Cargill endowed the Holbrook Working Chair in Commodity Price Studies and the Helen Cherington Farnsworth Chair in International Agricultural Policy honoring their work. The account of the history of the Institute as seen through its publications in Essay 2 emphasizes that Holbrook Working's path-breaking work in advancing understanding of the economics of futures trading was almost certainly the most significant body of work by an FRI staff member.
The report of the Carnegie review committee was very positive, and Stanford received an endowment grant of $750,000, a large sum in 1931. The next major grant became available in 1946/47 when the Rockefeller Foundation provided $300,000 for an International History of Food and Agriculture in World War II. Although best known for the books on the wartime experience of food management in Britain, France, India, Japan, and other countries, this Rockefeller-funded project also made possible several important international commodity studies, including Mirko Lamer's monumental volume on The World Fertilizer Economy, a book by Vladimir Timoshenko and Boris Swerling on The World's Sugar, and V. D. Wickizer's Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa.
The initial Carnegie grant had provided funds for a few fellowships "for graduate students in the field of food research." Most of the students received degrees in economics and prepared dissertations mainly or entirely under the supervision of FRI faculty members. Robert Calkin's 1932 dissertation, for example, was "certified" by Holbrook Working of FRI and Bernard Haley in Economics and "Approved for the Committee on Graduate Study" by Carl Alsberg. (Alsberg served for a number of years as chairman of that committee and also as Dean of Graduate Study. Bennett served as Dean of the School of Social Sciences between 1945 and 1948.)
In the early 1950s, FRI initiated its own graduate study program. This was made possible by a gift of $500,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation to Stanford "as a capital fund for the Food Research Institute" to support instruction, research, and the Institute's library. It is my understanding that officials at Rockefeller and the FRI faculty had come to the conclusion that with growth in the size of the Economics Department and its orientation toward theory and methodology, it would no longer be feasible for it to provide the sort of training in an interdisciplinary and applied approach to research provided by the Institute's faculty.
In an address at the dedication of the FRI Building in 1970, Robert Calkins had stressed the Institute's emphasis on applied research which he defined as research "designed primarily for the clarification of problems and the guidance of action." According to Calkins, that emphasis was accompanied by a recognition that applied research must often be interdisciplinary. On the same occasion, the Institute's Director, William O. Jones, also noted that "The original directors sought standards for economic research comparable to those pursued in the natural sciences; concern with evidence, with the accuracy of reported observation... became guiding principles of economic research." In later years that "concern with evidence" often led to an emphasis on field research, particularly in the research carried out by graduate students as a basis for their doctoral dissertations. The Institute's specialized library and the work of a cartographer and an "associate statistician" on the staff made noteworthy contributions to the quality of FRI's research and publications until recent years when it was decided that those support services could no longer be afforded. Over many years FRI authors acknowledged the invaluable assistance that they received from Rosamond Peirce, the Institute's associate statistician until her retirement in 1975. Peter Kilby and I were privileged to dedicate our 1975 book, Agriculture and Structural Transformation, to Ms. Peirce. When Kilby expressed "our gratitude for her many years of extraordinarily competent and selfless work as the Food Research Institute's Associate Statistician" he was reiterating a truth expressed in numerous FRI publications.
Two developments during the last two decades of the 1921-62 period need to be noted. First, was the increasing orientation of FRI's research, teaching, and publications toward the food and agricultural problems of less-developed countries. Two five-year grants from the Carnegie Corporation for research focused on "Africa south of the Sahara and north of the Union" were of crucial importance in supporting that new orientation. The outstanding collection of government documents from African colonies and countries available in the Hoover Library made a notable contribution to FRI's research on the food economies of sub-Saharan Africa.
The other initiative was launching Food Research Institute Studies, a periodical published by FRI between 1960 and 1994. In presenting the case for that initiative, Merrill Bennett argued that it would make an important contribution in helping to focus the research of the faculty and in sustaining the Institute's tradition of operating as "a body of cooperating scholars."
Herbert Hoover and the Food Research Institute
Given Hoover's crucial role in the creation of FRI, his involvement in the work of the Institute appears to have been surprisingly limited. He was a member of the Advisory Committee established when the Institute was launched. That Committee included the presidents of the Carnegie Corporation and Stanford University as ex officio members plus Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce; Julius Barnes, formerly President of the U.S. Grain Corporation; Dr. William M. Jardine, President of Kansas State Agricultural College (who would continue as a member after he became Secretary of Agriculture); J. P. Howard, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation; Miss Sarah Louise Arnold, Dean Emerita of Simmons College; and George Roeding, formerly of the California Horticultural Commission. For some four or five years the FRI's annual reports listed the members of the Advisory Committee. I have found no references to the activities of the Committee or to its having been dissolved, although I must emphasize that my search has been limited.
The outbreak of World War II led to the one visible encounter between Hoover and FRI. Hoover was convinced that the U. S. role in the Second World War should be limited to relief activities along the lines of those carried out by the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) that he directed during World War I. In 1940 and 1941 he carried out a vigorous campaign to garner support for a CRB-style relief mission to combat hunger in Belgium and other European democracies overrun by the armies of Germany. That campaign was the occasion for the "wrangle" with FRI. Hoover had obtained German permission for bringing in food relief supplies, but Winston Churchill and the British government, supported by Roosevelt and the U.S. government, refused to sanction the scheme.
As Nash rightly points out, "The wrangle with the Food Research Institute was the first skirmish in an ideological war that pitted Hoover against his university in the months just prior to Pearl Harbor" (p. 114). In early August of 1941 Hoover, Stanford President Wilbur, and several other Republican leaders had publicly urged Congress to "put a stop to step-by-step projection of the United States into undeclared war." Their declaration was made shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and "To Hoover this startling development rendered the case for American intervention less tenable than ever." The country was at that time bitterly divided between "isolationists" and "interventionists." Consequently, the condemnation of Roosevelt's foreign policy by Hoover, Wilbur, and other Republican leaders espousing the isolationist position was deeply disturbing to many faculty members "who wanted the United States to do whatever it could to aid the Allies." A group of 176 Stanford professors signed a petition urging all Americans, "regardless of party affiliations," to give "unified support" to President Roosevelt as commander-in-chief during the present "national emergency." Hoover responded with a questionnaire that he mailed to 800 people in the "whole faculty'' (including visiting and part-time faculty and secretaries and librarians). Hoover reported that 60 percent of the respondents to his questionnaire supported his isolationist viewpoint, but a poll organized by Professor Lewis Terman sent to 483 members of the academic council found very strong support for the Roosevelt administration's anti-Nazi policies, with more than 75 percent giving unqualified approval to even stronger measures if necessary to defeat the Axis powers.
That "battle of the polls" ended with an October 30 letter from Hoover to Professor Terman expressing his displeasure but proposing that "the whole of these papers" be put aside and then re-examined in 10 years. In a matter of weeks, however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought an end to the bitter controversy between isolationists and interventionists.
Hoover's skirmish with FRI had begun in late 1940 when Hoover complained to President Wilbur that his campaign for a CRB-style operation was being hurt by Professor Karl Brandt of the Food Research Institute who was "constantly throwing stuff into the press that makes our problem more difficult" (quoted in Nash, p. 112). Brandt's position was set forth at some length in an article on "How Europe is Fighting Famine" in the July 1941 issue of Foreign Affairs. The gist of his argument was that the Nazi regime was exercising tight control over the food and agricultural situation in Belgium and other occupied areas in order to obtain maximum benefit from their local industries in supporting the German war machine. Hence, supplies brought in as food relief would basically assist the effort to mobilize "Fortress Europe" to further Nazi objectives.
The controversy between Hoover and Brandt was the occasion for a pair of letters by J. S. Davis that shed important light on FRI and its relationship to Hoover. In July 1941 the Palo Alto Times published a letter by a Mr. Norman Rushton which echoed the fact that Hoover had found it especially galling that the Food Research Institute, created in large measure in response to his initiatives, had become an obstacle to his effort to replicate his World War I Commission for Relief in Belgium. The Times published a short reply by Davis, and in a longer letter to Mr. Rushton, a copy of which was sent to Hoover, Davis wrote:
I assure you that we do not forget the circumstances of the founding of the Food Research Institute. We honor Mr. Hoover and Dr. A. E. Taylor for their vision, initiative, and influence in persuading Carnegie Corporation of New York to establish the Institute, in co-operation with Stanford university, on lines that have proved wise. To this extent, the Institute is a child of Mr. Hoover's; but so far as I know, he has never contributed to its support or devoted himself to building and guiding it, as in the case of the Hoover Library. At the outset, it was the understanding that "The control of its policies and the active direction of the work of the Institute are in joint charge of its three directors."... In more recent years, since Dr. Taylor's retirement (1936) and Dr. Alsberg's resignation (1937), my senior colleagues (including Dr. Brandt since 1938) have shared this responsibility with me. We have naturally consulted President Wilbur frequently, and taken counsel with Mr. Hoover and many others informally as opportunities have arisen. For good or ill, however, the Institute has consistently developed as a research agency with an exceptional degree of autonomy within the University. It is a regrettable misapprehension, among some of Mr. Hoover's friends and enemies, that the Institute has operated under his special influence. (Box 7, J. S. Davis Papers, Hoover Institution Archives)
The contrast between Hoover's limited involvement in the work of FRI and the way in which he devoted himself to "building and guiding" the Hoover Library is striking. The origin of the Hoover Institution is traced to Hoover's reading of the autobiography of Andrew Dixon White while crossing the English Channel and the arrival a few months later of a 1915 letter from Professor E. D. Adams of the Stanford History Department. White, an eminent historian before he became the first president of Cornell University, recounted his experience as a student in Paris in the 1850s when he assembled a large collection of "fugitive publications" on the French Revolution, including pamphlets, cartoons, and reports as well as books and manuscripts. White also reported that the "library" that he had collected had helped a friend prepare an outstanding history of the French Revolution.
With White's account of his experience in collecting "fugitive publications" fresh in mind, Hoover reacted promptly and positively to Professor Adams' letter urging him to preserve the records of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and to eventually deposit them at Stanford. In his book Herbert Hoover and Stanford University, George Nash reports that "in his reading of Andrew D. White's autobiography and his correspondence with E. D. Adams lay the germ of an enterprise that became the world's largest private repository of documents on twentieth-century political history" (p. 50)
Much of Nash's book is devoted to the story of how that idea came to be embodied in today's Hoover Institution and its archives. The process got under way in earnest in 1919 when Hoover made a personal commitment to provide $50,000 for sending Stanford historians to Europe for the collection of historical material. Adams, Ralph Lutz, and Frank Golder were mainly responsible for the rapid growth of the Hoover War Collection, but Hoover also played an active role. For example, while serving as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Hoover called upon the Department of Commerce's attaches abroad to obtain foreign newspapers, government publications, and books, paying for the acquisitions with his own money.
From the beginning there were skirmishes to prevent successive directors of the Stanford Library from taking control of the material being accumulated. This reflected "Hoover's determination to maintain his collection intact... The Hoover War Collection was a gift to the University, but its donor remained its overseer" (p. 77). And as "overseer" Hoover worked hard and effectively to obtain additional funds for acquisitions, for maintaining the collection, and eventually for building the Hoover Tower not only for storing the huge collection but also as a home for the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, the name which the Stanford trustees adopted in 1957 at Hoover's request.
Two years later Hoover was more emphatic than ever in insisting on the independence of the Hoover Institution. Stanford President Wallace Sterling had proposed that Hoover should have only a consultative role in the selection of the Institution's director, but in his response Hoover declared:
I cannot accept the idea of a mere consultation in a matter which reaches to the whole fundamental of my relation to the Institution. The Institution is obviously my creation. The major financial support for forty-four years has come from my friends and myself. The largest part of its collections were acquired directly by myself and staffs which I have headed. It is probably my major contribution to American life...(As quoted in Nash, p. 153)
A resolution of the trustees in May 1959 granted Hoover's demand, declaring that the Hoover Institution was "an independent institution within the frame of Stanford University." At that time the trustees also appointed, with Hoover's prior approval, W. Glenn Campbell as director of the Hoover Institution. Even that did not mark the end of Hoover's "special influence." In 1962, the trustees accepted a final demand from Hoover by agreeing that future directors of the Institution would be recommended to the trustees by the university president after having first been approved by the Hoover Foundation, a New York corporation comprising Hoover family members and friends.
In light of the 1996 decision by the Stanford Administration to close the Food Research Institute, it seems almost prophetic that Davis remarked that it was "For good or ill" that the Institute operated with "an exceptional degree of autonomy within the University." As a member of the FRI faculty since 1954, it is not surprising that I agree with Davis that the Institute was established "on lines that have proved wise," including the decision of the original directors that they were in joint charge "of its policies and the active direction of the work of the Institute." Operating without a strong and prestigious advisory board clearly provides "an exceptional degree of autonomy." But just as clearly, it means that a small department such as FRI is extremely vulnerable when challenged. A productive life of three score and fifteen years is, however, not too bad for an academic department with a rather unorthodox mission. Furthermore, as the "gene pool" of a worldwide body of cooperating scholars, FRI is alive and well.
A Note on Sources and Personal Recollections
To my knowledge, a history of the Food Research Institute has never been written. This short essay draws heavily on the 1988 book Herbert Hoover and Stanford University by George H. Nash, and I have reviewed some of the archival material cited in that book relevant to FRI. Staff members at Green Library and at the Hoover Institution Archives provided fine assistance as I sampled some of the many Boxes of Papers of the four FRI directors discussed in section II as well as Herbert Hoover. Nash also made extensive use of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa.
My treatment of the Institute's three co-directors--Alsberg, Davis, and Taylor--is based to a considerable extent on the five essays in the splendid little book Carl Alsberg: Scientist at Large edited by Joseph S. Davis. The essays by Alfred Kroeber on "The Making of the Man" and by Robert Calkins on "University Professor and Administrator" are especially interesting. Alsberg and Kroeber, who later became a distinguished professor of anthropology at UC/Berkeley, were lifelong friends who grew up in the same bilingual German-American neighborhood in New York City. Calkins was with Alsberg and the Food Research Institute during most of the years 1925-32. They were colleagues again at UC/Berkeley where Calkins served as chairman of the Department of Economics and dean of the College of Commerce before serving as dean of the School of Business at Columbia University and later as President of the Brookings Institution.
An FRI publication with the addresses presented at the dedication of the "Food Research Building" in 1970 is also useful, especially the addresses by Davis, Calkins, and William O. Jones. Richard H. Smith's 1984 biography, An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover, is valuable as a reminder of the greatness of Hoover's accomplishments which, for many, have been overshadowed by his Presidency during the grim years of the Great Depression.
This essay is also influenced by my long association with Stanford and FRI. I spent the first six months of 1945 attending the Army's Civil Affairs Training School at Stanford (with its headquarters located in the recently completed Hoover Tower). Merrill Bennett's lectures on the food economy of Japan--drawing on his 1941 book with V. D. Wickizer on The Rice Economy of Monsoon Asia--were for me an exceptionally important part of the "area studies" component of that course. By chance I bought a copy of the Wickizer-Bennett book, and it became my "bible" in late 1945 and 1946 when I found myself struggling with Japan's postwar food crisis as chief of the Food Branch in the Price Control and Rationing Division in General MacArthur's Headquarters as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP).
In February 1946, Hoover was summoned to the White House to accept the honorary Chairmanship of a Famine Emergency Committee soon to be followed by this request from President Truman: "I have a job for you that nobody else in the country can do... you know more about feeding nations and people than anybody in the world" (as quoted in Smith, p. 352). Truman put his private plane at his disposal, and Hoover and his team were soon off on a fifty-thousand mile voyage to review the emerging food crisis. Tokyo was an important stop on that trip, and the meeting there with Japanese and SCAP officials was my one opportunity to meet Hoover in person.
My first extended conversations with Merrill Bennett took place in Tokyo when he was there as a member of an official mission to SCAP on higher education in Japan. I had intended to merely follow up on a 1946 visit to Stanford when we had discussed my plan to return for graduate work after spending some three years in Japan. When Bennett informed me that the Japanese scholar selected to write the volume on Japan in the Institute's series on Food and Agriculture During World War II would not be available for the job, I countered with a proposal that eventually led to the Johnston-Hosoda-Kusumi book Japan 's Food Management During World War II mentioned in Essay 2. That was not the last time that Bennett was to change the course of my life.