Dr. Albert F.
1892 - Nov. 4, 1961
Franklin Yeager was born in Kansas in 1892 and graduated from Kansas
State College with a bachelor's degree in horticulture in 1912. In 1916,
Yeager earned his master's degree in pomology, the science of growing
fruit, from Oregon State College (now Oregon State University).
After graduation, he was hired by Pennsylvania State College as an
instructor of horticulture and pomology. At that time, chestnut tree bark
disease was devastating the trees in the eastern United States, especially
in Pennsylvania. The trees were significant to the economy as they were
used to make tannic acid, telegraph and telephone poles, and railroad
ties. The governor created the Pennsylvania Chestnut Blight Commission,
which hired Yeager as a field agent. Yeager worked at this position for a
year, then taught vocational agriculture for two years at Crete High
School in southeastern Nebraska.
With the end of World War I and many returning servicemen heading to
college, enrollment at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota
State University) increased. In 1919, at age 27, Yeager, along with his
wife Arline and infant daughter, Mary, moved to Fargo, North Dakota and
began working in the Horticulture and Forestry Department.
In the February 27, 1919 edition of the student newspaper, the Spectrum,
they reported, "The development of horticulture has been very
progressive in this state and the future outlook is indeed more and more
promising. The work has expanded to such a degree that it became necessary
to obtain an additional man for this purpose and Mr. A.F. Yeager has
recently been secured." They continued, "He will arrive March 15
and will assume his duties immediately. With the exception of teaching a
few horticultural subjects, Mr. Yeager will devote all his time to the
work in the experiment station."
Yeager recognized that the climate in North Dakota presented growers and
home gardeners with three major problems:
Not enough rainfall (periodic drought); and
began working on developing vegetables and fruits to overcome these North
Dakota gardening challenges. Since some of the earlier work at the
experiment station had been with corn, he started his efforts there. His
goal was to create a variety with longer ears, more kernels, and a shorter
maturity date. His efforts were rewarded with the introduction of 'Sunshine'
sweet corn in 1927.
Probably his biggest success while in North Dakota was in developing
tomato varieties for that often harsh climate. Before his introductions,
growing tomatoes successfully there was extremely challenging.
He not only was successful in his vegetable breeding work, he also juggled
the fatherly duties of a young man with a growing family (Albert, Jr. was
born in 1928), with career and educational development. From October of
1930 until July of 1931, Yeager took a sabbatical leave from the college
to begin work on his Ph.D. degree at Iowa State College.
Yeager's work was greatly appreciated and recognized by North Dakotan
gardeners, farmers, and the press alike. He authored nineteen bulletins
and his news releases were frequently published in North Dakota newspapers.
During his eighteen years at North Dakota Agricultural College (1919 to
1937), A. F. Yeager created more than twenty new varieties of fruits and
vegetables earning him the nicknames "Luther Burbank of North Dakota"
and the "Plant Wizard of the North" by the press and his peers.
Even though he was well known and appreciated in North Dakota for his
agricultural contributions, he was not immune to the economics of the
Great Depression. As a matter of fact, North Dakota was hit very hard by
the depression and cost cutting measures throughout all levels of the
state's government, including the university, were implemented.
Although he was not terminated, much of his budget, support staff, and
salary were so greatly reduced that he decided to it was in everyones best
interest to move on to a position where he could continue his work. Having
been awarded his doctorate the year prior, Yeager submitted his
resignation on September 30, 1937.
Dr. Yeager worked for a short time teaching classes about vegetable crops
at Michigan State University, and then in 1939 he accepted the position as
chairman of the Department of Horticulture at the University of New
Hampshire, where he remained until he retired in 1951.
In 1950, he received national recognition when New Yorker magazine
reported he had pioneered a midget watermelon and developed a variety of
tomato with "four times the vitamin C content of the average tomato and
three times the vitamin content of the average orange."
Throughout his forty-three year career, Yeager was awarded many awards.
Some of these included:
Certificate of Merit in Plant Breeding by the Vegetable Growers
Association of America in 1953.
The Stevenson Memorial Gold Medal by the Manicoba Horticulture Association
of Canada in 1954.
The Robertson Gold Medal for "significant concribution to American
Horticulture" in 1956.
The Wilder Medal from the American Pomological Society in 1957.
He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, Fellow of the American Institute of Biological Scientists, and
President of the American Society of Horticultural Science (1951).
By the time he retired from teaching in 1959, he had introduced forty
varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers. Some of these varieties
sweet corn (1927)
King' tomato (1943)
Bison' tomato (1930)
He passed away on November 4, 1961.
"Dr. Albert F. Yeager Dies at 69; New
Hampshire Horticulturalist," New York Times, November 6, 1961, p.
"The 'Plant Wizzard of the
North': Albert F. Yeager at North Dakota Agricultural College," by
Barbara Handy-Marchello, North Dakota History, Volume 76, Numbers 1 & 2,
contributed to North Dakota agriculture," by Curt Eriksmoen,
Bismarck Tribune, November 27, 2016.