Everglades Biographies

David Grandison Fairchild

David Grandison Fairchild was born in East Lansing, Michigan on April 7, 1869. In 1888 Fairchild graduated from Kansas State University of Agriculture, Manhattan. He also conducted graduate work at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and at Rutgers College, New Jersey.

In 1889 Fairchild joined the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. as a botanist and plant explorer in the plant pathology section. Fairchild searched the world for plants of economic and aesthetic value that might be cultivated in the United States. Excursions throughout the orient fostered in Fairchild a passion for exploration and tropical horticulture -- an interest he would pursue throughout this life.

In 1897-98, Fairchild helped fellow explorer Walter T. Swingle organize the USDA's Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction; from 1904 to 1928, Fairchild served as its Chairman. During that time, many kinds of plants were introduced into the country. Dr. Fairchild was instrumental in establishing several plant introduction gardens throughout the U. S. to screen plants with a potential to improve the diets and industry of Americans.

Among the facilities established by the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction was a new subtropical laboratory and garden in Miami. Fairchild's associate Walter Swingle convinced railroad tycoon Henry Flagler to give the USDA an acre of land along Biscayne Bay to be used for construction of a laboratory to study plant diseases. He also persuaded another historic Miamian, Mary Brickell, to give him six acres across Brickell Avenue from Flagler's plot for use as a plant introduction site. In 1898 the USDA decided to lease, not own, these properties and the tropical agricultural program took off in earnest. Fairchild visited the garden in 1898, his first trip to Miami.

In 1903, Fairchild became acquainted with Alexander Graham Bell and his family in Washington DC. Two years later, he married Bell's daughter, Marian Hubbard ("Daisy") Bell, and the couple settled in Chevy Chase, outside of Washington DC. Their son Alexander ("Sandy") was born in the summer of 1906; daughter Barbara was born in spring 1909. In 1917, the Fairchilds began wintering in Coconut Grove. They purchased property at 4013 Douglas Road, naming it "The Kampong" (which means 'a cluster of houses' in Malay). Fairchild continued to travel all over the world collecting plant specimens and brought them back to his Coconut Grove home. In 1928, he and Marian built a two-story residence there, amid some of his collections. When Fairchild retired several years later, the Kampong became the family's permanent residence.

A new area of interest developed for Fairchild in 1929 -- the movement to establish a national park in the southern Everglades. As the first president of the Tropical Everglades Park Association, Fairchild brought his considerable reputation to the movement. He wrote essays, accompanied inspection parties, and provided testimony regarding the region's natural values.

The plant introduction facility that Swingle and Fairchild established in Miami moved to southern Dade County in 1921, after the War Department offered the abandoned Chapman Field to the USDA. On April 26, 1923, the first trees were planted at the new USDA Plant Introduction Garden at Chapman Field. The period of great plant explorations continued unabated through the 1930s, with Fairchild and others bringing thousands of new plant specimens into the station for propagation

Dr. David Fairchild died on Aug. 6, 1954, in Coconut Grove, Florida. He is credited with overseeing the introduction of more than 80,000 species and varieties of plants into the United States, among them the flowering cherry, Chinese soy bean, pistachios, nectarines, bamboo, avocados, East Indian mangoes and horseradish. Fairchild also wrote several books, including Exploring for Plants, (1930) and the autobiographical The World Was My Garden (1938).

Biography prepared Gail Clement, Florida International University


Photograph of David Fairchild, 1889.

Photo courtesy of National Agriculture Library, Special Collections, Galloway Photograph Album

Excerpt from letter from David Fairchild to Ruth Owen, regarding Park Committee's inspection tour of the Everglades, February 1930.

I think we are all set here for the arrival of the Committee unless something happens on the eleventh hour... What I have been afraid of is that the committee will not be able to adjust their senses to such a radical change as that involved in the shift from a foot of snow to mangos in bloom.

The blimp trip of course depends on the weather. If the wind is from the North it blows across the entrance to the hangar and they cannot get the big cigar out...

Do your best to get them out of the pullman at seven sharp. I know they will have had two restless nights and am fearful that this is going to be hard, but am counting on the fact that they are scientific men and will see the necessity of action when they have selected to see the whole tip of this great state in only four days..."

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