Hugh Hammond Bennett and the Creation of the Soil Erosion Service
by Douglas Helms
The Soil Conservation Service (SCS) was created in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by an act of Congress on April 27, 1935. However, an earlier date, September 19, 1933 should not pass without recognition. That date marks the selection of Hugh Hammond Bennett as the director of the Soil Erosion Service (SES), predecessor to SCS. Creation of the Soil Erosion Service was critical to the future of Federal soil conservation activities, the history of SCS, and Bennett’s recognition as the “father of soil conservation.”
This paper discusses Bennett’s USDA career, which made him the logical candidate to lead the Federal soil conservation effort, and recounts the summer of 1933 when the New Deal included soil conservation as a purpose for public works programs. During June to September 1933, several agencies put forth plans to utilize the public works funds to be devoted to soil conservation. It was by no means certain that the architects of the New Deal would favor Bennett’s plan over its competitors. Bennett’s selection as the Director of SES, while logical, was not a foregone conclusion.