Carl Avriette Moosberg (1905–1990)
Cotton breeder Carl Avriette Moosberg demonstrated that advances in the early maturing of cotton were possible. His Rex variety, introduced in 1957, reduced expense for pesticide by shortening the time required to maturity, while offering disease resistance and strong fiber. The success of Rex encouraged all major cottonseed companies to develop earlier maturing cotton varieties. Moosberg’s research improved the economics of growing cotton in Arkansas in the mid 1900s.
Carl Moosberg was born on August 24, 1905, in Tyler, Texas, the third of four sons born to Frank Olaf Moosberg and Anna Trofast, immigrants from Sweden. He graduated from high school in Wills Point, Texas, in 1923 and went to work for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Greenville, Texas, attending Texas Tech in Lubbock intermittently.
In the early 1930s, he worked for the USDA in Sacaton, Arizona, where he became interested in Indian artifacts at a nearby excavation on the Gila River. After conferring with scholars at the University of Arizona, he began digging, and in 1934, he donated some 780 artifacts, including jars, scoops, shell bracelets, and effigies, to the museum at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Coolidge, Arizona.
Moosberg graduated from Texas Technical College (now Texas Tech University) in 1937 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agronomy. He returned to Greenville, where he was the professional cotton breeder in residence, working to find a control for the Texas root rot disease.
During World War II, he served as a supply sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Forces, “flying the hump” over the Himalayan Mountains into China, Burma, India, and Pakistan. After the war, he returned to Texas, where he married Pearlie Marie Hagler in November 1945. They had three daughters.
Moosberg was associated with the University of Arkansas’s Cotton Branch Station in Marianna (Lee County) from 1948 to 1972, working first for the USDA as a senior agronomist and, beginning in 1968, as a research agronomist with the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).
Shortly after he went to work at Cotton Branch, there came to be an urgent demand for cotton that matured early. Growers had been using full-season cottons and depended on a cotton crop to keep going until frost. However, insecticides to kill boll weevils and boll worms were expensive to apply repeatedly over a long growing season. Expense, together with low cotton prices and the anticipation of mechanical harvesting machines, created a critical need for an early maturing variety. Moosberg worked with his colleague B. A. Waddle to develop an early strain that could stand up to machine harvesting. He had brought some strains from Texas that were resistant to bacterial leaf blight and crossed these with a type from the Mississippi River Delta.
The result was an early-maturing cotton with a potential for high yield as well as resistance to thrips, fusarium wilt, leaf blight, and storm loss. Called “Rex,” this new strain was released in 1957. “Rex cotton is Moosberg’s baby,” the Progressive Farmer journal proclaimed. It was grown generally in Arkansas and from Texas to the Atlantic seaboard, and for a brief period, it was the second leading cotton variety in the United States. With Rex, Moosberg proved that it was possible to grow an early-maturing cotton that was equal to older varieties in the quality of its fiber. Rex advanced first harvest date by as much as ten days and could be harvested mechanically.
The commercial life of Rex was relatively short, owing largely to competition from other early varieties developed after Rex. Moosberg also developed “Quapaw,” a strong, beautiful variety suitable for harvesting by stripping machine, which was released in the 1970s, but only for use in areas dryer than Arkansas.
The introduction of a new variety requires as many as ten years of exacting attention to detail in field conditions. Moosberg had a gift for looking at a few plants and telling which of them were worthwhile. He could feel cotton bolls with his fingers and discard useless material by touch. He could judge fiber strength by the way it twisted; he called it the “wavy” look, desirable since straight fibers make weak yarns when spun. He brought these talents to bear in the field in the long, careful work of the cotton breeder.
On a typical day in Marianna, he was in the field at dawn closing newly opening cotton blossoms with copper wire to force them to self-pollinate. Controlled cross-pollinations were done next, after the sun warmed the pistils of the flowers. The rest of the day was spent in the field collecting data on fruiting, disease symptoms, and, importantly, absence of disease symptoms. Tagging done earlier in the day was double-checked, because one wrong pollination by an errant bee could ruin an entire experiment.
Moosberg was named Progressive Farmer’s Man of the Year in Service to Arkansas Agriculture in 1966. He did not benefit financially from the products of his creativity, since registering a patent for cotton was not possible until the 1970s. When he retired from the University of Arkansas in 1972, he went to work for Growers Seed Company in Lubbock, Texas. He participated in church and civic work and enjoyed improving his land with grasses, fruits, windbreaks, flowers, and lakes for waterfowl. He died in Duncan, Oklahoma, on March 27, 1990, and is buried in Center, Texas.
For additional information:
Bourland, F. M., and B. A. Waddle. “Cotton Research Overview: Breeding.” Arkansas Farm Research 37 (July–August 1988): 7.
Progressive Farmer, Mid-South edition. January 1967, p. 19.
Strausberg, Stephen. A Century of Research: Centennial History of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. Fayetteville: Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1989.
Waddle, B. A. Recollections and Circumstances 1951–1985. Harrison, AR: 2004.
Nancy A. Williams
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.
Last Updated: 08/29/2016