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Travis P. Hignett Collection of Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory Photographs


Held at: Science History Institute Archives [Contact Us]315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Science History Institute Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory (F.N.R.L.) was established at American University in 1919 under the directorship of Arthur B. Lamb. Initially part of the War Department, the F.N.R.L. was the successor to several wartime initiatives to develop a secure domestic supply of nitrate compounds necessary for the manufacture of explosives during World War I. With a staff of about 110 individuals, including 35 to 50 chemists, the F.N.R.L. focused on the manufacture, production, and development of products of atmospheric nitrogen, including munitions and fertilizers. The F.N.R.L effectively laid the foundation for the fertilizer research subsequently undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and was most distinguished for improvements to both the catalyst and apparatus used in the synthesis of ammonia. In addition, the F.N.R.L also served as a training school for many industrial chemists, as well as a model for the project-oriented team research that came to characterize industrial chemical research. Following the suspension of the Army's Nitrate Division in 1921, administration of the F.N.R.L transferred to the Department of Agriculture; the F.N.R.L. was eventually absorbed into the Bureau of Soils laboratories in 1926.

Known as the "Father of Fertilizer Technology," Travis P. Hignett (1907-1989) was a distinguished chemist, chemical technologist, and author who worked in fertilizer research at the F.N.R.L. before joining the TVA in 1938. Hignett spent thirty-five years at the TVA and later served as a consultant to the International Fertilizer Development Center in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Over the course of his career, Hignett was credited with fifteen patents and was the recipient of numerous awards, most notably the Francis New Memorial Medal from the Fertiliser Society of London.

This collection primarily consists of print and negative photographs of buildings, laboratories, and equipment at the F.N.R.L. and several other U.S.D.A. sites from the 1920s through the 1950s. Many of the photographs are mounted on pages from scrapbook albums, which were disassembled during processing, and the photographs are filed according to the order in which they were arranged in the albums. The photographs effectively capture numerous stages of the nitrogen fixation process and the various equipment and apparatus used in the production of atmospheric nitrogen, including generators, compressors, filters, thermostats, and vacuum and blast furnaces. Portraits of laboratory and U.S.D.A. personnel, including Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson and Bureau of Soils Chief Milton Whitney, comprise a significant portion of the latter part of the collection. Additionally, the collection also includes several photographs of U.S.D.A. exhibit booths from industrial expositions and trade shows, including the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition held in Philadelphia and the Chemical Industries Exposition in New York, New York.

The majority of this collection has been digitized and is available online in our Digital Collections:

Gift of Travis P. Hignett, 2003.

Processed by Robert Hull in 2003. Many of the photographs were mounted on pages from scrapbook albums, which were disassembled during processing. Photographs are filed according to the order in which they were arranged in the albums. Object identification numbers have been assigned to individual photographs.

Science History Institute Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid created and encoded into EAD by Hillary S. Kativa. Edited by Alex Asal in 2023.
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions on the materials for research purposes and the collection is open to the public.

Use Restrictions

To obtain reproductions and copyright information, contact:

Collection Inventory

Fixed Nitrogen Research Laboratory interior and exterior, exhibit booths, equipment and apparatus [2003.902.001-152], circa 1920-1930.
Box 1
Equipment and apparatus [2003.902.153-230], circa 1926-1930.
Box 2
Equipment and apparatus, U.S.D.A. buildings and personnel [2003.902.231-339], circa 1930s, 1950s.
Box 3
Equipment and apparatus [2003.902.340-387], undated.
Box 4
Unidentified negatives [uncatalogued], undated.
Box 5

Print, Suggest