William James Beal Papers

Summary Information

Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections
Beal, W. J., (William James), 1833-1924
William James Beal papers
Date [inclusive]
1.0 Cubic feet

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: "Item title, Collection title, Collection Identifier, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan."

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Biographical Note

William J. Beal was born on March 11, 1833 in Adrian, Michigan. In 1859, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. degree in classical studies. After two years of teaching material science at The Friend's Academy in Union Springs, New York, Beal enrolled at Harvard. While there, he studied under famous botanists, Asa Gray, Louis Agassiz, and Jeffries Wyman, and eventually graduated with his B.S. degree.

In 1871, Beal began his long association with Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) as a professor of botany and horticulture. A pioneer in teaching "The New Botany" as outlined in his 1880 address, Beal placed great emphasis on independent learning through observation. Several of his students went on to become prominent scientists including C. S. Crandall, professor of pomology at Illinois; C. C. Georgeson who developed wheat and strawberries capable of withstanding Alaska's climate; and Liberty Hyde Bailey who became a world authority on palm species. Perhaps Beal's greatest achievement was his experiments in cross-fertilization of corn which led directly to the development of hybrid corn. His most enduring act was the establishment of the oldest continuously operated garden in the nation in 1873: Beal Botanical Garden at Michigan Agricultural College. This garden is recognized as one of the best in the country serving as both an outdoor teaching lab and a focal point for naturalists. In 1910, Beal retired after forty years of service to write a history of M.A.C. He spent his remaining years in Amherst, Massachusetts until his death in 1924.

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Scope and Contents note

The William J. Beal papers consist of correspondence, publications, and materials relating to his work as a student at Harvard University. The material from Beal's years at Harvard includes course notes on anatomy, geology and ornithology as well as a detailed journal which Beal wrote in 1862. This journal includes comments on individuals as well as events of the period.

The correspondence is not extensive but contains several letters from Asa Gray as well as a typescript copy of a letter that Beal wrote in 1862 on the teachings of Louis Agassiz. The correspondence also contains a photocopy of an 1878 letter from Charles Darwin discussing hybrid corn. The volume listing Beal's publications is particularly useful since it gives a complete listing of all his writings from 1861 to 1921.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections December 1979

Conrad Hall
888 Wilson Road, Room 101
East Lansing , MI, 48824

Revision Description

  March 2012

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Legal Status note

Copyright: Michigan State University. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Harvard University.
  • Michigan Agricultural College. -- General subdivision--Faculty;
  • Michigan State University. Department of Botany.
  • University of Michigan. Class of 1859.
  • University of Michigan.


  • Course materials
  • Guidebooks
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Photographs
  • Postcards
  • Publications
  • Scrapbooks

Personal Name(s)

  • Baker, Jessie Beal
  • Beal, Fannie E.
  • Beal, W. J., (William James), 1833-1924
  • Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882
  • Gray, Asa, 1810-1888
  • Hyde, Beal Baker
  • Kuhn, Madison
  • Randall, W. E.
  • Swain, Betsy


  • Botany
  • Horticulture

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Collection Inventory

Notes and Correspondence 


Box Folder


891 1


891 2


891 3
Box Folder

Old Students Fund 1905 

891 4

Essay Delivered at Graduation 1859 

891 5

Notebook of Plants Observed in New York 1859 

891 6

Class Notes 1892 

891 7

Comments on Life at Harvard 1862 

891 8

Notebook 1866 

891 9

Reports to State Board of Agriculture Undated 

891 10

Address on Botany 1879 

891 11

Weed Seed Burial Experiment 1953 

891 12

Syllabus, Botanical Laboratory 1882 

891 13

Grayling Experiment Station Plantings 1888-1895 

891 14

Botanical Department Memoranda/Notes 1890-1891 

891 15

Reports to the President of M.A.C. 1872, 1910 

891 16

Notes for Beal's History of M.A.C. 1910 

891 17

Miscellaneous Notes Undated 

891 18

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Botany Classes 

Student Papers 

Box Folder


891 19


891 20


891 21


891 22

Miscellaneous Undated 

891 23
Box Folder

Examination Undated 

891 24

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Writings by William J. Beal 

Box Folder

Carnivorous Plants 1875 

891 25

An Address Given to the Connecticut Board of Agriculture 1880 

891 26

Experiments and Other Work at the Horticulture Department 1880 

891 27

A Brief Account of the Botanical Garden 1882 

891 28

The New Botany 1882 

891 29

Agriculture: Its Needs and Opportunities 1884 

Box Folder

Manual Labor at Agricultural Colleges 1894 

891 31

Beal's Hints for Beginners in Botany 1896 

891 32

Catalog of Trees and Shrubs at Michigan Agricultural College 

891 33

Fern and Seed Plant Growing Without Cultivation 1904 

891 34

Hints for Exhibits at Grange or Fair 1905 

891 35

The Vitality of Seeds 1905 

891 36

"Lightning Strokes at M.A.C. During 43 Years" 1913 

891 37

"M.A.C. Represented by a Stream" 1875-1913 

891 38

Michigan Weeds 1915 

891 39

History of the University of Michigan's Class of 1859 1917 

891 40

An American Pioneer in Science: William J. Beal 1925 

891 41

Hints on Growing Grasses Undated 

891 42

A Choice List of Ornamental Trees and Shrubs Undated 

891 43

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Other Publications 

Box Folder

Maple Sugar and the Sugar Bush by A.J. Cook 1877 

891 44

Bergielunds Botaniska Trädgård 1891 

891 45

Newspaper Clippings 1881-1883 

891 46

Home Insurance Policy 1883 

891 47

Publications of W.J. Beal 1861-1921 

891 48

Articles about Beal by Ray Stannard Baker 1941, 1966 

891 49

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Box Folder

Scrapbook #240 Photos of Harvard buildings and faculty 1863 

891 49

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Map. Sweden. Stockholm. “Botanical Garden" 1891 

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Photographs- People Collection 


Beal, Jessie 

Photographs - People

Beal, Mrs. William J. 

Photographs - People

Beal, William J. 

Photographs - People

Copies of photographs belonging to Jessie Beal Baker and Ray Stannard Baker 


Wells Hall (1) and fountain 1890 

Williams Hall and College Hall undated 

Museum and Library (Linton Hall) undated 

M.A.C. campus undated 

People on campus (unidentified) undated 

Soldiers in formation near Abbot Hall undated 

People in Beal Botanical Garden 1890 

Class of 1889 as sophomores (one co-ed) circa 1886-1887 


Chemical Lab undated 

Group photo (unidentified) undated 

Music room (possibly belonging to Phi Delta Theta) undated 

Beal and another man 1867 


Beal and students in the lab undated 


Beal, William J. 1887 


Dedication of monument to W.J. Beal's breeding of corn (Beal Botanical Garden) 1953 


M.A.C. Botanical Department Staff August 20, 1890 


Phi Delta Theta fraternity 


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M.A.C. Botanical Garden panorama undated 


University Hall, University of Michigan 1944 

Postcard Drawer

William J. Beal's home on M.A.C. campus early 1900s