The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Munson, Thomas Volney

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MUNSON, Thomas Volney, American horticulturist and plant breeder: b. on a farm near Astoria, Ill., 26 Sept. 1843; d. Denison, Tex., 21 Jan. 1913. His early education was obtained in the rural district schools, followed by a course in an academy at Lewiston. He subsequently took a course in a commercial college after which he entered the University of Kentucky, whence he was graduated in 1870. Shortly after completing his education he married and removed to the vicinity of Lincoln, Neb. In 1873 he became interested in the improvement of the various species of the native American grapes and planned to do systematic work in the way of developing new varieties by cross-pollenation and hybridization. The experiments thus undertaken were doomed to failure because of climatic rigors and a visitation of the Rocky Mountain locusts. Undismayed, he sought a new location, settling at Denison, Tex., in 1876. There climatic conditions were much more favorable to the prosecution of such experiments and, moreover, wild grapes were much more abundant and more profuse in variety than in Nebraska. He engaged in the nursery business and in the breeding new varieties of grapes and also growing them upon a commercial scale. During the ensuing 25-year period, he produced and experimentally fruited no less than 150,000 new varieties of grapes, many of which were far superior to those hitherto in common cultivation. Only the very best of these were selected for propagation and dissemination and so rigid and exacting was the process of elimination that but 50 varieties were retained for introduction and cultivation as a permanent addition to American viticulture. He became recognized as a botanist as well as a viticulturist, a volume entitled ‘Native Trees of the Southwest’ having been prepared under the direction of the United States Department of Agriculture and a similar thesis being submitted in 1883 for the master's degree at the Kentucky Agricultural College. But his specialty was the grape and he became the recognized authority on the native wild grapes of North America. His horticultural and scientific work in hybridizing and perfecting the American grapes won recognition abroad as well as at home. In appreciation of his service in producing and introducing resistant stocks with which to restore the phylloxera infested vineyards of France, the French Government conferred upon him the diploma and decoration of the Legion of Honor, with the title of “Chevalier du Merit Agricole,” in 1888. He wrote ‘Classification and Generic Synopsis of the Wild Grapes of North America’ (issued as Bulletin No. 3 of the Division of Pomology, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, 1890). The most complete botanical display of the whole grape genus ever made was prepared by Mr. Munson and exhibited at the World's Columbian Exhibition at Chicago in 1893 and has since been preserved by the United States Department of Agriculture at Washington. He was the founder and for many years the president of the Texas Horticultural Society and was a member of a number of learned societies, including the American Horticultural Society, the National Agricultural Association of France, the American Pomological Society, the American Breeders' Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His volume ‘Foundations of American Grape Culture’ (1909), embodied the practical results of more than 30 years of patient, painstaking investigation, experimentation and observation and must long remain the leading treatise of its class. His work, which may be justly said to have been monumental in its significance and beneficence, was continued until his death.