I. Rollins Adams Emerson


Rollins Adams Emerson, who founded and kept the Maize Genetics Cooperation in operation through many years, died in Memorial Hospital, Ithaca, New York, December 8, 1947. He was born at Pillar Point, Jefferson County, New York, May 5, 1873. Early in life he moved with his family to Nebraska and later attended the University of Nebraska from which he received the degree of Bachelor of Science in 1897. The two years following his graduation he spent in the Office of Experiment Stations of The United States Department of Agriculture and in 1899 returned to his Alma Mater where he served as Assistant Professor, Professor and Head of the Department of Horticulture until 1914. He gave a year, 1911‑12, to advanced study at the Bussey Institution of Harvard University where the degree of Doctor of Science was conferred upon him in 1913. On July 1, 1914, he became Head of the Department of Plant Breeding in the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University, which position he held until his retirement from active administrative duties, October 1, 1942. As Emeritus Professor, he continued his work of research in corn genetics and his practical breeding work on celery and field beans.


Doctor Emerson's compelling scientific interest was in genetics and he was among the first to recognize the corn plant as material particularly suitable for genetic analysis. He became a leader in this field of research and through his work and that of his students he gained world‑wide reputation and more is now known about the cytogeneties of corn than any other plant. To his initiative, inventiveness and persistent efforts are largely due the establishment of the ten linkage groups and for the location of a large number of genes in the linkage maps of the maize chromosomes. His analysis of gene interaction in relation to plant color, of multiple alleles affecting pericarp color patterns and his approach to a genic interpretation of quantitative inheritance in relation to ear row number and other characters of economic importance are classic examples of the best type of genetic research. Though the major part of his effort was directed toward theoretical genetics, he was also very much interested in the application of genetic principles to practical plant breeding.


His achievements as a scientist and his forcefully attractive personality brought to him students from all parts of the world. As a teacher he had the unique gift of imparting to others his own contagious enthusiasm and zeal for research. Students went out of his laboratory to positions of leadership and responsibility in numerous high ranking institutions in this country and abroad. Their noteworthy achievements and continuing devoted loyalty stand as an enduring monument to him.


In 1923‑24 Doctor Emerson visited the principal maize producing areas in South America and brought back a large collection of maize seeds for further genetical study. In 1935 he went to Yucatan at the request of the division of archeology of the Carnegie Foundation to collect information on the probable kinds of food crops grown and consumed by the ancient Mayan peoples.


Doctor Emerson's wide interest and outstanding ability won for him the distinctive honors of election to both the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences. For many years he was a member of the National Research Council. In 1923 he was president of the American Society of Naturalists and in 1933 President of the Genetics Society of America. He was a charter member of the American Society of Horticultural Science and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Other affiliations were the American Association of University Professors, American Society of Agronomy and American Genetic Association. He was also a member of Gamma Alpha, Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa. For six years (1925 to 1931) he was Dean of the Graduate School of Cornell University.


At the time of the 1928 AAAS Christmas meetings a "Cornfab" was hold in Doctor Emerson's room in a New York hotel and it was here that the idea of the Maize Genetics Cooperation was conceived. A mimeographed letter of April 12, 1929, and accompanying folder of linkage information was composed by him and this was considered News Letter No. 1. In January, 1933, Doctor Emerson began correspondence to obtain funds to operate the Maize Genetics Cooperation and the following year a grant for this purpose was made available by the Rockefeller Foundation. The seed stocks of mutant genes and the News Letter were continued and expanded largely through his keen interest and untiring efforts.


No statement regarding Doctor Emerson's achievements would be complete without mention of the fine personal qualities which endeared him to his friends and were known and appreciated by all who were privileged to have contacts with him. He is survived by two sons, two daughters, 13 grandchildren, and one great‑grandchild.


(Most of the information for the above notice was obtained from material contained in resolutions presented before the Faculty of the College of Agriculture of Cornell University by a committee composed of L. F. Randolph, B. S. Monroe, and F. P. Bussell, Chairman.)