Department of History
University of Georgia
Growth Industry: Unearthing the Origins of Fertilizer-Fueled Agriculture in America, 1850-1950.
<b>Abstract: </b>Today we can scarcely imagine agriculture without fertilizer. This has not always been the case. After the American Civil War, farmers on worn southern soils came to rely on this untested commodity on an unprecedented scale. By the 1920s, technical breakthroughs and a maturing agricultural bureaucracy helped satiate a newfound chemical dependence that seemed to have no upper limit. A history of commercial fertilizer offers a chance to uncover a fundamental environmental and technological shift: A transition away from local channels of nutrient cycling that pulled farmers—and then nations—into the widening gyre of a global nutrient economy. This dissertation untangles the economic, political, and environmental roots of this transformation by investigating the following: What pressures led American farmers onto the path of chemical-input agriculture? How and why did fertilizer become a strategic concern of the state during and after the First World War, and what were its impacts?