Today in History – May 23, 1930 – U.S. Plant Patent Act of the Hawley-Smot Trariff allows plants to be patented. This new U.S. Plant Patent Act provided, for the first time, patent protection for new and distinct varieties of asexually reproduced plants. Plant breeders now had a financial incentive to perform plant breeding experiments and exercise control over their discoveries. The new law was motivated by the work of Luther Burbank, who had performed over 100,000 horticultural experiments and developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants during his 50 years of dedication to plant improvement. After selling his rights to the Russet Burbank potato in 1871 he moved to California and established a nursery garden, a greenhouse and experimental farms in Santa Rosa that one can visit today as a park and museum.
Thomas Edison testified before Congress in support of the 1930 Plant Patent Act saying: This [bill] will, I feel sure, give us many Burbanks.
Luther Burbank died in 1926, but he was granted 16 patents posthumously. He set the precedent for plant breeding in agricultural engineering and bioengineering.
The Engineering Pathway has a number of resources on Luther Burbank. For more educational resources, see our agricultural engineering education community site. The Engineering Pathway also hosts Engineering Education communities in all ABET-accredited disciplines.