Seedsmen Hall of Fame
Honoring Horticulturalists

Ainsworth Emery Blount
by W. H. Olin

Ainswoth Emery BlountSince the 1911 meeting of the American Breeders Association at Columbus, Ohio, one of the pioneer plant breeders of America has "passed over the range" - Prof. A. E. Blount.

Ainsworth Emery Blount was born at Brainard, East Tennessee - a mission station - February 6, 1831. He passed his early boyhood in that region, leading a simple form of life in the midst of the Cherokee Indians. His children later in life delighted to hear their father talk and sing in the Cherokee language, which he learned from his boyhood playmates.

On his father's side Professor Blount was descended from Puritan stock, while his mother, born Harriet Ellsworth, was granddaughter of Oliver Ellsworth, first Chief Justice of the United States, and member of that memorable convention which drafted the Federal Constitution in 1787. Professor Blount graduated from Dartmouth College in 1859, and at the time of the Civil War he was principal of the Masonic Female Institute, Cleveland, Tenn. He resigned his position at the opening of the war; entering the first East Tennessee Cavalry as a private, he came out of the war with the rank of captain in above named regiment. In 1865 he married the daughter of Dr. J. F. Hall of Portsmouth, N.H.

After the Civil War, Professor Blount began elaborate investigations in the principles of heredity and the breeding of cereals. He was the first plant breeder in the cereals - corn and wheat - as well as one of the first workers with and propagators of alfalfa in America. The writer believes Professor Blount to have been the first plant breeder in America to use as the fundamental principle which governed all his breeding work with the cereals: "Select the best to cross on the best to make a better offspring." It is the use of this rule which has enabled Luther Burbank and others to produce such desirable and valuable results in nuts, fruits, flowers, and grains.

In his corn work Professor Blount began with an eight-rowed white dent corn and, after ten years' work in crossing and selection, he had created a new variety, Blount's Prolific. Of this, he says: "I had the satisfaction of putting into the hands of real live farmers a variety that excelled anything in the shape of maize that, up to that time, had been grown in America, as the Rural New Yorker of 1879 fully illustrates. It is still for sale all over the country by no less than a dozen seed houses, but, sad to say, it is so deteriorated that its prolific feature is hardly left. Corn mixes so readily it is impossible, even isolated miles away from all other kinds, to keep pure and genuine seed without a yearly protection."

Professor Blount was the first one to introduce durum wheats in the United States. It was while Professor Blount was at the Colorado State Agricultural College as Agriculturist that probably his greatest work was done in seed breeding.

Speaking of this work in correspondence with the writer he says: "While there [in Colorado], in 12 of the best years of my life, I made many crosses between the best varieties, only 43 of which were worth propagating. I then called them hybrids, but on further investigation declared them only 'crosses,' not hybrids. It was in 1879 that I received a very small sample of the then smooth Defiance Wheat and his Champion Bearded No. 9 from E. C. Pringle (Vt.), who claimed to have 'originated' them - how he never told me, though I sought to know his method. From this seed I gained quite a large number of average heads, the largest, if I remember rightly, not quite 3 inches long, with only about 21 kernels in the glumes, including the white cap. The next year I selected the .best and crossed the best on the best to get a better offspring' - the rule I worked on in all my experiments. In 1885 you will see how much it was improved by 'selecting the best to cross on the best to get a better offspring.'" See No. 8, page 44, Secretary's Report for 1886.

Professor Blount told the writer in a letter that one single grain of Defiance in his nursery, under irrigation, produced 106 good heads containing an average of 43 kernels each, heads fully 5 to 6 inches long from base to tip of white-cap.

The president of the college was a man of classical training who did not appreciate the work being done by Professor Blount, and the director of the experiment station - a graduate of the Agricultural College of Michigan - refused to recognize the worth and value of this veteran plant breeder's most excellent work and so the world at large learned little of what was being done. It is to be regretted that much of the best work in plant breeding done by Professor Blount at the Colorado Station was lost after he was driven from the station by college politics. He had in his nursery over 400 named varieties of wheat, most of which he knew at a glance without consulting the labels. He was in correspondence with 40 of the best plant breeders of his day, in Australia, Asia, England, Continental Europe, North and South America. From 1890 to 1898 Professor Blount did active and valuable work in the new agricultural station of New Mexico. Failing health caused him to retire from active service. He spent his last years in his truly delightful home among family and friends at Wellesley, Mass. Even here, he was consulted by plant specialists for advice, for his experience, perseverance, and capacity for accurate and delicate work had made him an authority on plant breeding. As long as he lived he was constantly in receipt of letters from all the wheat-growing states and foreign countries growing this cereal.

His death, February 21, 1911, was caused by an attack of pneumonia. Defiance Wheat is his gift to the Irrigated West, demonstrated by miller and farmer to be the best milling spring wheat grown on the irrigated lands of America. He was a most modest man, an untiring investigator, a great lover of nature and of little children, as well as of plants and flowers. He attained success. A speed-mad and money-mad commercialized world would perhaps not consider it such. The writer inclines to proclaim as a successful man, one who has added one flower, one food grain, fruit or economic plant, useful to man or beast; who has not lost the love of little children; who has learned the love of Nature, and though he may not have amassed wealth, has made the world better for his having lived in it, living a life that speaks for purity, truth and love. Such success Blount had achieved.

Source: "The American Breeders Magazine," 1912, Vol. III, Issue No. 2, pages 81-84.


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