IT has been said that ” the government of the United States may take its stand among the most enterprising and prosperous of those nations in which departments are provided and supported for every purpose which can possibly increase the national wealth and intelligence, and stimulate the national enterprise.” One of these beneficial, and it may be called stimulating, departments is the Department of Agriculture, which is charged with collecting and diffusing the most reliable information upon agriculture and the many important industries which cluster around it, and upon the successful prosecution of which the country’s prosperity depends. It is not a costly department, as compared with other branches of the public service, its expenditure rarely exceeding S400,000 a year, but its work is of incalculable value. It has diffused definite information concerning the best methods to be employed in special branches of agriculture ; it has told the farmers how to protect themselves from pestiferous insects, and how to guard against the diseases of farm animals ; it has supplied the best seeds for vegetables and flowers, for cotton, corn, wheat, tobacco, medicinal herbs, hemp, flax, and jute ; it has made many valuable discoveries, and diffused them so that they may benefit the greatest number ; and in countless ways has been of vast service in the development and improvement of the agricultural interests of the country.
The department is under the direction of an official called the Commissioner of Agriculture. He is appointed by the President, and receives a salary of $4,500 per year. A force of talented specialists is constantly engaged in making careful and thorough investigations of agricultural matters, and in many of the divisions of the department invaluable work is clone. Thus, in the microscopical division close examinations are made of food products, and new methods discovered for the detection of artificial impurities in them. Examinations are also made to discover the cause of diseases of animals and plants, with a view of providing remedies. Plants native to the United States are frequently discovered to have valuable medicinal qualities, and within a short time several of this sort have been found on the Pacific coast which have great value for medical purposes. In the division of entomology special investigations are made of insects which injuriously affect wheat, corn, rice, sugar-cane, fruit-trees, and many vegetables, and important information gained as to their habits, mode of development, and the means of destroying them. Men are sent to the districts ravaged by insects, and devote much time to their study, and the results of their studies are incorporated in special publications, which are distributed throughout the farming sections of the country. Careful examinations have been made of insects affecting the cotton plant, and they have resulted in discoveries by which the cost of protecting the crop is greatly lessened, and a good part of the loss from the pests is prevented.
The department has undertaken an extended series of experiments and investigations in regard to diseases of farm animals, greater than it has ever attempted before, which will be conducted with the view of thoroughly ascertaining the origin, cause, and nature of the Texas cattle-fever, pleuro-pneumonia in cattle, and hog and chicken cholera, diseases which cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars to farmers ; and it is confidently expected that means will be discovered by which these destructive diseases can be prevented and cured. An experimental farm has been established in one of the outlying sections of Washington, and stocked with animals to be used for the experiments, and all the necessary apparatus for inoculation, autopsies, and chemical analyses has been provided. Experts will here diligently labor to obtain the information so greatly needed, and the farm will doubtless become a permanent part of the department, to be used for many kindred experiments from time to time.
Located throughout the agricultural districts of the United States are hundreds of reliable and judicious correspondents, who make simultaneous report to the department on the first of each month, of the condition of the crops, the results of local agricultural experiments, and other valuable facts. These reports are constantly verified by special agents, and the greatest pains taken to secure accuracy. When the information is all at hand the statistician of the department compiles it, and makes out the full monthly crop report, which is announced through the newspapers and issued in pamphlet form. These reports have great practical value, especially to those pecuniarily interested in bread-stuffs, cotton, and other staples.
Thousands of letters are received requesting information in regard to the agricultural productions of the western states and the territories; and information in regard to strange looking birds and insects, samples of which are sentwhether or not they are destructive to crops. Peculiar kinds of grass and plants that have poisoned cattle are for-warded, with inquiries about them ; and a thousand and one different requests for practical knowledge continually pour in. Each letter is promptly answered, and the fullest information it has been possible to obtain is given. The annual report of the department has a circulation of 300,000 copies, mostly of course among the western farmers, who prize it highly. It is a bulky volume, with a vast amount of in-formation of importance to the agricultural interests, and is copiously illustrated with correct drawings of insects, and various other things appertaining to agriculture and horticulture, the illustrations costing in some years as much as $30,000.
The department building is situated on the Mall, facing Thirteenth Street, and is of fine pressed brick with brown-stone trimmings. It is of the renaissance order of architecture, and was erected in 1868, after designs by Adolph Cluss, at a cost of $140,000. It has three stories and a mansard roof, and is one hundred and seventy feet long, and sixty-one feet wide. That portion of the Mall on which the building is situated is beautifully laid out in spacious gardens, in which are grown over two thousand varieties of plants and flowers, arranged in strict botanical order. A portion of the ground is laid out as an arboretum, and contains a choice collection of trees and hardy shrubs. The front gardens are adorned with a low terrace wall, and numerous rustic vases and statues. About ten acres of the rear gardens are devoted to the raising of seeds, and the testing of small fruits. From the front of the building a charming view of the business section of Washington can be obtained.
Great plant-houses of glass and iron are located on the west of the building. They consist of a centre pavilion with long wings, and are nearly four hundred feet in length, and very handsomely designed. They contain all the principal varieties of tropical fruit plants, and an extensive collection of foreign grapes, and also many medical plants, and those furnishing dyes, gums, and textile fibres.
Adjacent to the department building on the east is the seed-house, used for the storing and distributing of seeds. Here nearly one hundred persons are employed, during the winter and spring, in packing garden, field, and flower seeds of the most approved varieties, for distribution throughout the country. The department raises great quantities of seeds, and also purchases of reliable firms in Europe and America many seeds which are strictly guaranteed to be of prime quality. Seeds are sent to districts where the lands have been over-flowed, and the farmers have lost all they put into the ground, thus enabling them to start again in the work of cultivation. Choice varieties of foreign seeds are given out in sections where it is believed the foreign plants can be successfully cultivated. Yearly over two mil-lion packages 0f seeds, and from 60,000 to 70,000 plants are distributed. The plants include many rare and exceedingly valuable species.
The interior of the department building is excellently arranged for the purposes of the business, and all the divisions are accommodated in large, well-furnished apartments. A large apartment on the first floor is used for the library, a collection of 10,000 volumes pertaining to agriculture, which is considered the most complete of the kind in the United States. It has a number of very costly and magnificent botanical works of foreign publication.
On the second floor, occupying all the space in the centre 0f the building, is a grand Museum of Agriculture, arranged to thoroughly illustrate the agricultural productions of the country, and the substances manufactured from them. The collections are very extensive, and include every vegetable grown from Maine to California, together with many minerals and woods. There is also a fine exhibit of the game birds and poultry of the United States. Illustrations are given of the effect produced upon vegetation by climate, birds, insects, and animals. The vegetables and fruits are skillfully modeled and colored to imitate nature, and are so perfect in most cases that they may be easily taken for the genuine.
In the third story is a large botanical museum, containing many thousand species of plants, properly arranged. Here all the botanical collections obtained by the government exploring expeditions are deposited.