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Richard, George (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 59, Number 5 (Nov. 1957)

The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory,   pp. 16-21


Page 18


A curved, laminated beam is loaded in the Laboratory's million-
pound testing machine while trained scientists record the performance.
18
doesn't matter whether he is studying the structure of
the atom or the structure of the universe; the method is
the same. His findings command respect.
  It wasn't always so, even so recently as 1910. The atti-
tude of some congressmen was evidence of that. They
couldn't see any use for a laboratory after the few months'
testing necessary to find out all there was to know about
wood. Scientists were still a breed apart, and the eager
band who gathered in Madison could show pitifully little
to justify heavier investment in their work.
  Howard F. Weiss, the wood preserving specialist, later
recalled whimsically that he was obliged to equip his pres-
ervation laboratory with $120-and, even at 1910 prices,
the equipment needed ran to $3,200. The others fared
similarly. In their fondest dreams, they probably didn't
visualize anything like the institution that was to evolve
during the next half century.
  It was above all, then, a time for careful analysis and
planning, for putting first things first. Out of that plan-
ning evolved the goals that have guided the Laboratory
through the years, and will continue so to do. They are:
  1. The utilization of the forests for the greatest good
of the greatest number-an over-all Forest Service goal
that was promulgated by President Theodore Roosevelt.
  2. The more efficient utilizatictn of forest by (a) re-
duction of losses, and (b) utilization of losses.
  The term "losses" in this sense meant anything left un-
used-whether it be a tree of unwanted form or species
in the forest, sawdust in a sawmill, planer shavings in a
wood-working shop, or unused strength in an oversize
beam.
  Better seasoning can make useful the wood of species
that warp badly. Improved preservatives more effectively
put into wood prevent decay in window sash, utility poles,
railroad ties.. Accurate strength formulas enable engineers
to design buildings with smaller members. By such de-
velopments losses are reduced.
  Knowing the chemistry of wood, you can transform
sawmill slabs and edgings into wood pulp; or pulpmill
lignin waste into useful chemical products; or chipped
scrap wood into wood sugars that in turn can yield indus-
trial chemicals. Such developments utilize losses.
  Recognition was closer than the scientists of the infant
Forest Products Laboratory realized. In fact, they had
hardly had time to get securely under way when, in Eu-
rope, the lights of civilization began to go out and the
Old World turned for the first time to the New for the
wherewithal to save itself.
  Wartime demands uncovered broad areas where basic
research was badly needed. The Laboratory's venture into
glue research, for example, brought it face to face with a
whole branch of wood technology heavily burdened by
customs, practices, trade "secrets," and shibboleths that
varied contradictorily, almost from shop to shop. Here
was a field needing not only better adhesives but orderly
gluing procedures and conditions.
  War experiences also dramatically illumined the need
in the future, for better seasoning methods. New water-
spray kilns had done a job. But for commercial work bet-
                  Wisconsin Alumnus, November, 1957


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