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The Forest Products Laboratory

Image of Forest Products Laboratory building.
The current Forest Products Laboratory facilities, built in Madison in 1932.

From its earliest days, the Forest Service was involved in studies and research into the physical properties of wood. In need of a permanent testing facility, Chief Gifford Pinchot, along with his deputy Overton Price and chief of the Office of Wood Utilization McGarvey Cline, decided to seek a cooperative agreement with a university to provide the necessary space and equipment. After reviewing several universities, Pinchot chose the University of Wisconsin at Madison as the site for the new Forest Products Laboratory. McGarvey Cline was appointed as first director of the laboratory and on October 1, 1909 the lab began operations, with the official dedication ceremony occurring the following year on June 4, 1910 under new USFS Chief Henry Graves.

At the time of its founding the Forest Products Lab was organized into four research divisions: Wood Preservation, Timber Tests, Wood Chemistry, and Wood Technology. Four additional areas - Engineering, Pathology, Wood Distillation, and Pulp and Paper - were also soon added. These divisions provided the foundation for areas of investigation and research performed at the lab.

The Forest Products Laboratory has made numerous important contributions to the country during its history, including crucial research for the armed forces during both WWI and WWII. During WWI, the laboratory performed experiments on wood for airplane construction, as well as research into box and packaging materials, and charcoal to be used in gas masks. During WWII, constant wood-utilization projects were performed on the wood and lumber used for nearly every aspect of the war effort.

Image of research being done at the Forest Products 
    Laboratory on wooden airplane propellers during WWI, ca. 1918.
Research being done at the Forest Products Laboratory on wooden airplane propellers during WWI, ca. 1918.

The current laboratory's building facilities on the University of Wisconsin campus were built in 1932. Other successful research done at the lab throughout the twentieth century has included developing waterproof plywood, chemical treatments to extend the durability of construction woods, developing uses for wood waste, expanding the pulp and paper industry into the southern U.S., and much more. Today the Forest Products Laboratory continues to operate as the nation's premier wood research institute, and a leading international technical authority on wood science and usage.

Dead load testing machine, Forest Products Laboratory, 1910.
Dead load testing machine, Forest Products Laboratory, 1910.

Directors of the Forest Products Laboratory:

McGarvey Cline, 1910-1912
Howard F. Weiss, 1912-1917
Carlile P. Winslow, 1917-1946
George M. Hunt, 1946-1951
J. Alfred Hall, 1951-1959
Edward G. Locke, 1959-1966
Herbert O. Fleischer, 1966-1975
Robert L. Youngs, 1975-1985
John R. Erickson, 1985-1994
Thomas E. Hamilton, 1994-2001
Christopher Risbrudt, 2001-2011


Additional Resources:

Baechler, Roy H. and Lee R. Gjovik. "Looking Back at 75 Years of Research in Wood Preservation at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory," 1986.

"Forest Products Research," from the Encyclopedia of American Forest and Conservation History, 1983.

"Toward Wiser Use of Wood," a Midcentury Tribute to the Men and Women Who Conceived and Founded the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory and Guided it Through its First 40 Years. Published by the Employees of the Laboratory, 1950.

Hall, William L. "A Forward Step in Forest Conservation." American Forestry, June 1910.

Start, Edwin A. "The New Forest Products Laboratory." American Forestry, July 1910.

Zerbe, John I. and Phyllis A.D. Green. "Extending the Forest Resource: 90 Years of Progress at the Forest Products Laboratory." Forest History Today, Fall 1999.

"Forest Products Laboratory: Supporting the Nation's Armed Forces with Valuable Wood Research for 90 Years." Forest Products Journal, January/February 2007.

Browse historic images from the FHS World War I photo gallery, which includes images of Forest Products Laboratory work during the war.

The Forest Products Lab Centennial Oral History Project (Univeristy of Wisconsin Digital Collections), features digital audio recorded interviews with 52 current and former employees of the Forest Products Laboratory.

Forest Products 
    Laboratory building, ca. 1910.
Forest Products Laboratory building, ca. 1910.

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Updated: 7/13/2011