In the years before World War I, America's federal government played a very limited role in advanced fertilizer research. This changed after 1916 when lawmakers included a provision in the National Defense Act that funded a swords-to-plowshares project to manufacture incendiary weapons during war and chemical fertilizer during peacetime. This essay examines how the Unied States entered a new era in agricultural production in spite of the government's bungled job of enacting its mandate. It argues that 1916 marked a turning point after which federal research helped usher in the chemical revolution in American agriculture. Significantly, it shows how legislators had pitched the arms-to-farms project as a type of federal fertilizer subsidy for farmers, but in practice the law became a corporate subsidy that helped agricultural firms become increasingly sophisticated chemical manufacturers.

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