Thomas W. Barrett papers

MS 712
Thomas W. Barrett in the field.

Thomas W. Barrett doing field work with a portrait of Barrett in the corner.

Collection area: History of Science

Collection dates: 1910-1988 bulk 1955-1985

About this collection

The Thomas W. Barrett papers include materials related to Barrett's research regarding soils, plants, and pollution. Barrett was a professor in the Agriculture Department at Arizona State University but also completed several freelance projects and conducted his own research. The collection contains personal files, correspondence, photographs, photographic negatives, slide transparencies, audiovisual materials, research files, and published publications.

Historical background

Thomas W. Barrett was born September 6, 1917 in Orem, Utah, on a fruit farm. While growing up on the family farm, Barrett became interested in crops, soils, and would later find a passion for agronomy (the science of soil management and crop production).

After graduating from high school, Barrett attended Brigham Young University where he received his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemistry, Math, and Physics in 1940. He would go on to receive his Masters from Cornell University in 1948, where he studied Soil Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry. Remaining at Cornell University for his Ph.D., Barret graduated in 1950 with his Ph.D. in Soil Fertility and Plant Physiology.

While attending school, Barrett was also involved with the US Air Force. He served as an active duty pilot from 1941-1946. He then became an instructor of multi-engined aircraft at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York from 1942-1946. From 1946-1967, Barrett continued his service as a member of the US Air Force Reserve. He was also the Chairman, Training Guidance Staff, at the 2638th Air Reserve Center from 1954-1961. Following this stint, Barrett went to the 6163rd US Air Force Research and Development Unit from 1961-1967. In July 1967, Barrett retired as a Colonel.

Barrett began teaching at the US Military Academy, but was interested in working at an academic institution. While a graduate student at Cornell, Barrett was able to begin work as a graduate teaching instructor. From 1947-1950, he was a Graduate Research Fellow at Cornell University. Upon completion of his Ph.D., he took a position as an assistant professor at Arizona State University, where he would go on to become an associate professor (1953-1957), and was appointed Professor of Agriculture (1957). While at ASU, Barrett taught the following courses: introductory soils, soil fertility, soil chemistry, soil management, soil taxonomy, and effect of air pollutants on plants and soils.

When not teaching, Barrett was also an active consultant. He was the Chairman of the Sulphur Springs Valley Arbitration Committee, US District Court in 1955. He also consulted for American Smelting and Refining Company, Shell Oil Company, Mt. Isa Mines, Ltd., Waterways Experiment Station, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Salt River Project, University of Utah Research Institute, Arizona Public Service Company, Inspiration Copper Company, and ASARCO, Kennecott and Magma Copper Companies.

An active member of the academic community, Barrett published several papers about soil sciences, sulfur dioxide pollution, and crop maintenance throughout his career. He was a member of the American Society of Agronomy, Soil Science Society of America, Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science, Air Pollution Control Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of University Professors, and the Soil Conservation Society of America.

In 1943, Barrett married Joan T. Thomas. Born August 25, 1921, Joan was the daughter of noted agronomist Moyer Delwyn Thomas and Lilaine Jenefer Rowe Olver. Moyer Delwyn Thomas invented the Thomas Autometer, which measures gas concentrations, specifically sulfur dioxide, in polluted air. An educator, inventor, and member of the academic community, Thomas also published on soil structure and alkali, air pollution, plant nutrition, photosynthesis, and radioactive tracers. Joan grew up in the LDS church, became a missionary, and then attended Brigham Young University, and later attended Arizona State University, graduating in 1960. She taught for a year at McKemy Junior High School in Tempe, Arizona. Once married, she played an active role in the Arizona State University Faculty Wives Club, serving as its president in 1953. The Barretts had three daughters, Linda, Margaret, and Sarah, and one son, Thomas Jr..

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