Dr. George B. Loring was Commissioner of Agriculture and in search of a new chemist to head his chemistry division when he and Harvey Wiley both delivered speeches before the Mississippi Valley Cane-Growers’ Association in St. Louis, Missouri. It was December 1882, twenty years after the establishment of the Department of Agriculture during President Lincoln’s administration. The USDA was America’s fourth federal department.
Loring (formerly a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts) was appointed Commissioner of Agriculture by President Garfield, likely due to Loring’s scientific experience as a medical doctor, surgeon, and founder of the New England Agricultural Society. Loring’s administrative skills were probably considered too, since he had for awhile served as Massachusetts’ postmaster general. He was also a talented orator at a time when outdoor speeches and fine print were sources of entertainment.
A few months later, Garfield was assassinated, and Vice President Chester A. Arthur was in his place. President Arthur agreed with Loring that they needed to improve government agricultural research by recruiting a chemist who could provide a more objective study of sorghum and the sugar industry than could Dr. Peter Collier.
Loring was impressed with Professor Wiley of Purdue University, who was also Indiana’s State Chemist. Besides Wiley’s stellar scientific qualifications, Loring was most certainly impressed with Wiley’s ability to effectively communicate his research to the public, a desirable skill in a government scientist.