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The First 50 Years

The First 50 Years

In the fall of 1912 six men met and from that gathering a national organization dedicated to potato research would be born. The group’s intent was simply stated: “to be an effective national potato association…for promoting the potato industry in all its various phases.”
From this original gathering, W.A. Martin, of Houlton, Maine, was elected president of this nascent tribal gathering. Martin was given the power to form an organization and select a complement of officers. This would be achieved in January, 1913, when President Martin, with $50 of his personal funds, opened a treasury and stationery was purchased, a vigorous membership campaign inaugurated and a constitution with by-laws was prepared.
At the organization’s inaugural meeting in 1914 a motion was put forth for a national organization that would represent the potato industry as a whole. The proceedings of this meeting of 54 members and 13 commercial concerns published a constitution and by-laws, which stated that “this organization shall be known as the National Potato Association of America.” The name would be changed to the Potato Association of America in 1917 as interest spread throughout the continent and across the Atlantic to Europe.
Article Two of the constitution presented 15 original objectives, including: a) mutual cooperation and coordination of all agencies interested in all aspects of the potato industry; b) create better seed, free from disease and encourage a system of seed certification; c) stimulate the development of new and improved varieties, provide proper descriptions of varieties and assist in determining adaptation through uniform tests in all parts of the country; d) stimulate the investigation of methods for profitable utilization of surplus potatoes; e) encourage measures designed to safeguard the potato industry against the introductions of disease and insect pests; and f) collect and disseminate the best available information relating to both the practical and scientific phases involved in increased yields, couple with a lessened cost.
During the first 50 years of the PAA advances were made in nearly all of the original objectives, most notable being:
1) The development of better seed with the institution of a system of seed certification.
2) The development of new and improved varieties through cooperative breeding programs, possessing greater adaptability to regional and local growing conditions, with reduced disease susceptibility while meeting specific market needs.
3) Collecting and disseminating both practical and scientific information.
At the seventh annual meeting it was declared that “more and more this association has become an organization of the technical servants of the potato industry.”
At the same meeting it was stated, “We entertain the hope that there may be sometime…a great American potato show which may be the Mecca of all seed and table stock dealers, all implement and fertilizer people, all big receivers of potatoes…all forward-looking potato growers…” Was this the first design for a show that would one day be the POTATO EXPO?
From 1914 to 1922 dissemination of information was accomplished via publication of the proceedings of the annual meetings.
At the tenth annual meeting in 1923 a monthly publication, “The Potato News Bulletin,” was authorized. In 1926 the name of the publication was changed to “The American Potato Journal.” The journal’s first publication had 98 advertisements in its 354 pages. From 1948 to 1953 the PAA sponsored an additional publication, “The Potato Year Book.” In 1955 another publication, “Potato Handbook,” was started. Relying heavily on advertising it existed for 12 years.
From its inception, PAA membership has included people with direct and indirect links to the potato industry. From 67 total members at the inaugural meeting in 1914, membership grew to 490 in 1925, reaching over 1,500 in the late 1930s and was over 2,500 in the late 1940s. Membership would remain over 2,000 through the remainder of the first 50 years. In 1963, total membership was 2,172, with 1,346 in the United States, 176 in Canada and 650 in other countries.
Originally, membership was annual, life or patron (later to become sustaining membership). The life category was eliminated in 1952. In 1947 an honorary life member category was established.
Annual dues started at $2 per year for a single membership. In 1950 the annual dues was raised to $4 and was raised to $6 in 1961.
From 1914 to 1951 PAA annual meetings were held in December, usually in major cities. In the 1950s meeting dates were changed to summertime and remained so, with one exception, for the remainder of the first 50 years.
Until 1961 the annual meeting was held in conjunction with other scientific organizations such as the American Association of Entomologists, American Phytopathological Society and the American Society of Horticultural Science.
In 1961 the PAA decided that it “would meet separately, in potato areas or at universities with a schedule to be set up several years in advance.”
During the first 50 years there were 47 annual meetings. While no meetings were held between 1942-1945 due to World War II, two meetings were held in 1946. Of the 47 annual meetings, two were held in the western U.S. and two were held in Canada.
The original constitution and by-laws specified that the “officers of the organization were to be President, Vice-President, First Vice-President and a Vice-President from each state maintaining an affiliated organization, Secretary, and Treasurer.” From 1913 to 1946 the offices of secretary and treasurer were held by the same individual. Since 1946 separate individuals have held the two offices.
Through 1946 it was not unusual for the president to serve multiple terms. Until 1949, it was unusual for the vice-president to become president.
With the establishment of the office of president-elect in 1958, when the president-elect assumed the presidency, the vice-president was traditionally elected president-elect.
Next month’s issue will cover the PAA’s second 50 years of service to the potato industry.

By Robert E. Thornton and Larry Hiller

Originally posted Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013

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