Science, Promotion, and Scandal: Soil Bacteriology, Legume Inoculation, and the American Campaign for Soil Improvement in the Progressive Era

  • Mark R. FinlayEmail author
Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 40)


At the turn of the twentieth century, the recent discovery that soil bacteria explained how legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen sparked great interest, particularly in the context of ominous warnings of an impending “nitrogen famine.” A new industry quickly arose when it became evident that nitrogen-fixing bacteria could be identified, collected, sent to farmers, applied to farm fields, increase the yield of leguminous crops, and improve soil fertility. Important scientific research in this area took place at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), where the project fit in well with the department’s Progressive Era mission of serving society through useful applications of science. The work also brought considerable attention to a young USDA bacteriologist, George Moore, who became implicated in an apparent scandal that exposed the pitfalls of the sudden enthusiasm for legume inoculation, and forced the USDA to mobilize in order to reestablish its reputation for scientific integrity.


Bacteriology Legume inoculation George T. Moore Nitrogen-fixing bacteria Progressive era Soil fertility Walter T. Swingle US Department of Agriculture 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryArmstrong Atlantic State UniversitySavannahUSA

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