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Pierre, William Henry

Published onJul 30, 2021
Pierre, William Henry

(August 2, 1898-January 2, 1982)

Quick Facts

Professor of Soils and Head of the Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University, Professor Emeritus. 

William Henry Pierre was born at Brussels, Wisconsin, a Belgian-speaking community, on August 2, 1898, a son of Joseph Pierre and Mary Leroy Pierre.  He grew up there and attended Sturgeon Bay High School, graduating in 1917 as valedictorian.  Pierre immediately took training with the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) from September-December, 1917.  He then began studying at the University of Wisconsin - Madison where he received a BS in 1921, an MS in 1923, and a PhD in 1925, all in Soil Science.  He also took minors in agronomy, economics, and plant physiology.  As an undergraduate, he was a member of Alpha Zeta, agriculture honorary society; and Phi Kappa Phi, scholastic honorary society; the Intramural and Class Rowing Crew; and the Debating Society.  While in graduate studies, he was a member of Phi Sigma, biology recognition society, and Sigma Xi, science research honorary society.  Also during his years in school, he worked as Assistant Soil Surveyor at Wisconsin during the summers of 1919, 1920, 1923, 1924, and 1925.  He also worked as a soil surveyor at South Dakota State College from June, 1921 to October, 1922. 

Upon completing his PhD, Dr. Pierre worked at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) as Assistant Soil Chemist from 1925-1929.  He then went to West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia and served as Associate Professor and then Professor and Head of the Department of Agronomy until 1938.  During this time, he married Alice Oerkwitz on October 16, 1928.  They had three daughters; Mary Frances, Louise Joanne, and Nancy Jean Pierre. 

Portrait of William H. Pierre, Chair, Department of Agronomy, 1938-1964, 2020 by Liza Amir. Oil on canvas. Commissioned by University Museums and the Department of Agronomy. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2021.52

Dr. Pierre came to Iowa State College (now University) in 1938 as Professor of Soils and Head of the Department of Agronomy.   He served in both capacities until 1964 and then continued in research until his retirement in 1969.  He was named Professor Emeritus in1974.  During his years at Iowa State, Dr. Pierre's research contributions were in soil fertility and plant nutrition.  His main concerns were with the effect of different fertilizers on soil acidity, soil acidity factors affecting plant growth, aluminum and manganese toxicity, soil solution and plant nutrition, nutrient availability in soils, and the effect of genotype upon nutrient utilization.  He co-authored Soil and Fertilizer Phosphorus in Crop Nutrition with A.G. Norman (Academic Press, 1953) and Advances in Corn Production: Principles and Practices with W.P. Martin (Iowa State University Press, 1966.)  He also authored  more than 80 professional and popular articles related to soil fertility and management, many of which were published in Soil Science, the Journal of the American Society of Agronomy, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Journal of the American Society of Agronomy, the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, Commercial Fertilizer, the Journal of the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists, the Journal of Agriculture Research, Farm Science Reporter, the Soil Science Society of America Proceedings, Soybean Digest, Northwestern Banker, and publications of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Soils, the Soils and Men Yearbook of Agriculture for 1938, 1947 and 1957, the West Virginia Agricultural Experimental Station Bulletins, and Iowa State College Extension Service Pamphlets. 

As head of the Department of Agronomy, Dr. Pierre strongly supported both pure and applied research, undergraduate, graduate, and extension teaching and international programs.  During his years as head of the department, the faculty and number of graduate students increased.  By the time of his retirement, the department had increased from 22 to 47 full time staff members and eight were selected to become distinguished professors.  In 1946, he initiated a cooperative program of research in agricultural climatology with the Weather Bureau and cooperated with the Experiment Station in setting up research farms to study crop production problems.  He helped lead the effort to involve the U.S. Department of Agriculture with Iowa State in cooperative research and placing USDA scientists as full members of the department.  He was a member of the board of trustees of the Iowa State Research Foundation and served as president in 1954.  He was a trustee of the Committee for Agricultural Development and was a member of the board of directors of the Iowa Crop Improvement Association from 1960 to 1964. 

Dr. Pierre was also extensively involved in other professional activities beyond Iowa State.  He was a fellow and honorary member of the Soil Science Society of America and served as its president in 1940.  He was also president of the American Society of Agronomy in 1947.  He was a Fellow of the American Science Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  He was  a member and was a fellow of the Soil Conservation Society of America and of the International Society of Soil Science.  In addition, he was a member of the American Association of University Professors.  He was on the National Joint Committee of Soil Surveys of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Land Grant College Association.  He also served on the Agricultural Board of the National Academy of Science-Agricultural Research Council from 1955 to 1962, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and the United States Agency for International Development in Uruguay in 1950 and 1964-65.  He was a delegate to the 2nd Inter-American Conference on Agriculture in Mexico in 1942 and the Latin American Conference on Fertilizers in Brazil in1951. 

Dr. Pierre received several honors over the years.  He was elected to Gamma Sigma Delta, elected president, and was conferred its Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award of Merit.  The Iowa State University Alumni Association also recognized him with the Faculty Citation.   

Dr. William Henry Pierre died on January 2, 1982 and was interred in Iowa State University Cemetery.  Several weeks later, Mrs. Alice Pierre and the Achievement Foundation of Iowa State University established the William H. Pierre Memorial Lectureship.


Selected Sources

The primary source of information on the life and career of Dr. William Henry Pierre can be found in the William H. Pierre Papers, RS 9/9/14, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University. 

Biographical information includes personnel files from 1938, 1948, 1953, 1954, and 1966, a U. S. Civil Service Commission data form, and placement forms from the American Society of Agronomy Placement Service and the National Directory of Latin Americanists; entries in Who's Who In America, Volume 23, 1944-1945, p. 1795 and in American Men in Science, 1954; articles in Milton E. Bliss, “The Agronomy Brothers,” Plant Food Review, Spring, 1961, p. 27, the Iowa State University Press—Book News, 1966, the Iowa State Daily, December 7, 1976, and the Ames Daily Tribune, December 13, 1976, p. 8; and obituaries in the Des Moines Sunday Register, January 3, 1982, p. 7B, the Iowa State Daily, January 13, 1982,  Agronomy Staff News (Iowa State University), Volume 20, Number 17, January 4, 1982, and in Seed News (Iowa Crop Improvement Association), Volume 36, Numbers 5-6, May-June, 1982, p.1.

Other items in the collection include some of Dr. Pierre's talks, reprints from some of his publications, and papers.

The only other sources of information found on Dr. Pierre not in the collection were found at

Interment information at   

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