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The real Indiana Jones

The Aberdeen Times of Aberdeen, Idaho

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I'll grant you, he doesn't have the sex appeal of Harrison Ford in a sweat-stained fedora, but allow me to introduce you to a "real-deal" version of Indiana Jones: Frank Meyer.

True, that's not quite as catchy a name as "Indiana Jones" in fact, Frank started life as Frans Nicholas Meijer in The Netherlands but almost immediately after his arrival in the United States in 1901, he began working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the following year he joined the staff of USDA's Plant Introduction Station in Santa Ana, Calif.

Frank was a "plant explorer." From 1905 to 1908, he collected plant germplasm on behalf of USDA in China, Russia and Japan, as well as other countries. From 1909 to 1912, he collected in Europe, Russia and China, and he was back in Russia and China from 1913 to 1915. His final expedition began in 1916 and ended in June of 1918, when he mysteriously fell off a Japanese riverboat destined for Shanghai and drowned in the Yangtze River.

Frank was only 43 when he died, but he definitely left his mark on our world. His plant explorations brought us an amazing range of more than 2,500 plant specimens, from apricots and barleys to the first-ever introduction of zoysia grass into the United States.

It's doubtful that you'll ever see Frank Meyer's exploits splashed across a movie screen, but his photographs and other materials do play a starring role in another important venue: the National Agricultural Library (NAL), located in Beltsville, Md.

NAL is now part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), but its roots reach back to the very beginning of USDA. When President Abraham Lincoln signed the act that established USDA in 1862, that legislation included a call for the creation of a library to gather agricultural information.

A year later, with a donation of more than 1,000 volumes of agriculture-related materials from the Agricultural Division of the U.S. Patent Office, the Library of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was born. It became the National Agricultural Library in 1962.

Some of the materials at NAL are tied to major scientific breakthroughs on key issues such as public health. For example, NAL's shelves hold more than 100 boxes of line drawings, photographs, slides, research notes, documents, and correspondence that represent the early history of parasitology research conducted over the past century by USDA scientists.

Known as the U.S. National Animal Parasite Collection Records, it complements the U.S. National Parasite Collection, among the largest specimen-based collections in the world. Those records include an 1893 photo of USDA parasitologist Charles Wardell Stiles, who discovered American hookworm in humans and showed that the parasite was endemic and a major health hazard in the Southern United States.

NAL's parasitology collection is just one of more than 200 collections kept safe and accessible at the library. One of the most visually appealing of those is the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection technically accurate images that were their era's equivalent of photo documentation of the fruits and nuts developed by growers or introduced by USDA around the turn of the 20th century. '

USDA commissioned watercolor artists to produce these stunning images from 1886 until 1942, and the collection includes 7,584 paintings, lithographs, and line drawings, the creations of 21 different artists.

A companion collection to the pomology watercolors is the USDA Fruit Laboratory Card Catalog Collection, dating from the 1850s to the 1940s. Among the collection's many documents are apple history cards which contain a wide range of information, from the locations where different varieties of apples are grown to the varieties' taste and physical traits. Some of the apple images and information from the history cards were recently included in an atlas of Old Southern Apples by Lee Calhoun, whose second edition was published in 2010.

So no, NAL doesn't have Indiana Jones' fedora or his leather jacket on display anywhere ... but it does have enough other delights to keep you entertained and informed for many a long evening. This is your very own treasure trove, much of it available online at www.nal.usda. gov so take your cue from Frank Meyer and go exploring!

The Agricultural Research Service is the chief in-house scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You can read more about ARS discoveries at http://www.ars.usda. gov/news/.

Copyright 2012 The Aberdeen Times, Aberdeen, Idaho. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: August 15, 2012

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