ALBERT SPEAR HITCHCOCK

Photo of Albert Hitchcock

Albert was born on September 4, 1865, at Owosso, Michigan, and grew up in Kansas and Nebraska. He attended Iowa State Agricultural College earning a BS degree in 1884 at the age of 19, an MS degree in 1886, and a DSc degree in 1920. He was an assistant chemist at Iowa State Agricultural College and became an instructor in 1886 at the age of 21. He was botanical assistant under Trelease at the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis from 1889 to 1891 and then professor of botany at Kansas State Agricultural College, where he received an honorary DSc degree in 1934. He published 80 papers between 1892 and 1901, using dot distribution maps, perhaps the first. In 1901, he joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture and focused on economic botany, but traded jobs with Charles Piper who was the agrostologist and wanted to work on economic plants. Albert became custodian of grasses of the U.S. National Herbarium from 1905 to 1935 and principal botanist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1924. His publications on grasses were exceedingly numerous and valuable, such as the monumental Manual of Grasses of the United States (1935). He collected widely (visited every state!) and was instrumental in making the grass herbarium and library of world class stature. He played a major role in establishing the importance of types in botanical nomenclature, achieved at the 1930 Cambridge Botanical Congress. The idea of preserving a bit of the Canal Zone originated with him, resulting in Barro Colorado being made a permanent preserve.

He died of a heart attack on December 16, 1935, at the age of 71, on board the Steamship City of Norfolk on his return voyage from the 1935 Amsterdam Botanical Congress and visits to European herbaria. Hubbard in 1936 said at his death “all the United States has lost one of its most distinguished botanists and the world its foremost agrostologist.”

Albert was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1914 and continued as a member until his death.