Bennett, Hugh Hammond (1881 – 1960) American Soil Conservationist

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Hugh Hammond Bennett (1881 1960)
American soil conservationist

Dr. Bennett, a noted conservationist, is often called the father of soil conservation in the United States. He was born on April 13, 1881, in Anson County, North Carolina, and died July 7, 1960. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Bennett graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1903. After completing his university education, he became a soil surveyor in the Bureau of Soils of the U.S. Department of Agriculture . He recognized early the degradation to the land from soil erosion and in 1929 published a bulletin entitled "Soil Erosion, A National Menace." Soon after that, the nation began to heed the admonitions of this young scientist.

In 1933, the U.S. Department of Interior set up a Soil Erosion Service to conduct a nation-wide demonstration program of soil erosion, with Bennett as its head. In 1935, the Soil Conservation Service was established as a permanent agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Bennett became its head, a position he retained until his retirement in April 1951. He was the author of several books and many technical articles on soil conservation . He received high awards from many organizations and several foreign countries.

Dr. Bennett traveled widely as a crusader for soil conservation, and was a forceful speaker. Many colorful stories about his speeches exist. Perhaps the most widely quoted concerns the dust storm that hit Washington D.C. in the spring of 1935 at a critical moment in Congressional hearings concerning legislation that, if passed, would establish the Soil Conservation Service. A huge dust cloud that had started in the Great Plains was steadily moving toward Washington. As the storm hit the district, Dr. Bennett, who had been testifying before members of the Senate public lands committee, called the committee members to a window and pointed to the sky, darkened from the dust. It made such an impression that legislation was promptly approved, establishing the Soil Conservation Service.

Dr. Bennett was an outstanding scientist and crusader, but he was also an able administrator. He visualized that if the Soil Conservation Service was to be effective, it must have grass roots support. He laid the foundation for the establishment of the local soil conservation districts with locally elected officials to guide the program and Soil Conservation Service employees to provide the technical support. Currently there are over 3,000 districts (usually by county). The National Association of Conservation Districts is a powerful voice in matters of conservation. Because of Dr. Bennett's leadership in the United States, soil erosion was increasingly recognized worldwide as a serious threat to the long-term welfare of humans. Many other countries then followed the United States' lead in establishing organized soil conservation programs.

[William E. Larson ]



Bennett, H. H. Soil Conservation. Manchester: Ayer, 1970.