August 29, 2012

The Boyce Thompson Institute

The Boyce Thompson Institute 
 William Boyce Thompson was born to a small mining town in Virginia, May 13,1869. At 18 he attended the Phillips Exeter Academy, and upon completion studied at the Columbia University School of Mines. When he finished his education he returned home to Virginia, and was immediately employed by his father in the family’s copper and silver mines, located in Montana and Arizona. He became quite successful with his endeavors , and 1895 he wed Gertrude Hickman and moved to New York where he joined the Curb Exchange (now refereed to as the New York Stock Exchange).

Once settled, Exeter classmates and club members took to introducing Mr. Thompson to various New Yorkers of influence. This worked out very well, for he was one of the few residents of New York with a detailed knowledge of the mining business. He became quite successful as a mining promoter, developing mining properties in the West and Southwest of the United States, as well as in Canada.Later on he even managed to acquire a diamond mine in Africa. This all boded very well for Mr. Thompson, as he amassed a considerable, and well-earned fortune.

Beginning in 1906, and going through 1910, Thompson purchased properties in Northern Yonkers, New York. He then hired the noted architectural firm “Carrere and Hastings“ to design a beautiful estate, which he called “Alders with Alder Manor “. Upon the completion of his grand estate in 1912, Thompson was only 42 years old. He had all he needed, and considering his worth, he likely also had everything he ever wanted. To accomplish such things so early in his lifetime is impressive in it's own right, but what makes William Boyce Thompson a man worth remembering is what he did well after most would have considered settling down and relaxing into their golden years.

In 1917, Herbert Hoover was Chief of the Belgian Relief Fund. A privately run organization which focused on war-relief. After the end of the World War the organization found themselves needing to raise approximately $150 million dollars. Coincidentally Hoover was a member of the Rocky Mountain Club of New York, a club to which Mr. Thompson was also involved. An arrangement was made, and Thompson took on the role of treasurer, helming a newly-formed finance committee created to help raise funds.  He pledged $100,000 of his own money at that time. The Rocky Mountain Club also cared for soldiers in France, and for those traveling there. Under Thompson's watch, the club raised roughly $5 million for it's war-aid causes.

Soon after he began raising funds with the club, Thompson also donated $250,000 to the Red Cross. In 1917 he then led the Red Cross into Russia to asses the need for medical supplies and other care. It was there that he witnessed what true suffering was. People deprived of the basic human necessities, living in the streets, and slowly starving to death as a revolution tore cities apart around them. (The Russian Revolution of 1917, which saw the fall of the Tsarist Monarchy, and the formation of the Soviet Union).

Upon returning to the United States, Thompson set to work with what was to be his defining purpose. His aim was made clear by a statement he made regarding his plans: “There will be two hundred million people in this country pretty soon. It’s going to be a question of bread, of primary food supply. That question is beyond politicians and sociologists. I think I will work out some institution to deal with plant physiology, to help protect the basic needs of the 200 million. Not a uplift foundation, but a scientific institution dealing with definite things, like germination, parasites, plant diseases, and plant potentialities.”

He set to purchasing the properties across from his estate, and constructed the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. The institute was dedicated in 1924, and sat on some 300 acres of farming land and fields. His goal for the facility was a simple one: to make food easily attainable for everyone. In short, he felt that if food were affordable and plentiful, that it could potentially lead to world peace.“Agriculture, food supply, and social justice are linked “ His ideal became a passion, one which drove the institute on it's path to the betterment of society.

June 27, 1930, not long after the creation of the institute, William Boyce Thompson died of pneumonia in his estate across from the facility.  His funeral drew much attention, as nearly all people of influence in American society paid their final respects to a man who's worth was measured not by his fortune, but by his actions.
In 1978, after 54 years of operation in Yonkers, the Boyce Thompson Institute joined with Cornell University and relocated to its campus in Ithaca. It still operates today.








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