Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Hersey, Mark D.

Committee Member

Marcus, Alan I.

Committee Member

Greene, Collis

Committee Member

Brain, Stephen

Committee Member

Evans, Sterling

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of History


The U.S. tung oil industry began as a government experiment in plant diversification but businessmen mistakenly interpreted this interest as an endorsement of domestic production and began growing tung trees in the Gulf South states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The new crop quickly caught the attention of paint, varnish, and ink companies in the northern and Midwestern states and created a buzz among chemurgists like Henry Ford and other industrialists who eagerly expanded tung acreage. With the erection of the first crushing mill in 1928, the tung oil industry began but it did not acquire any semblance of maturity until World War II. The war thrust the nascent tung oil industry into strategic status. Used as a varnish on military airplanes and naval vessels, a brake lining, a machinery lubricant, a liner for tin cans, and as electrical insulation, demand exceeded supply. Traditional consumers had such a difficult time purchasing tung oil during the war that they turned to other oilseeds or new synthetic oils. The war both aided and crippled tung oil by highlighting its chemurgic uses and deterring consumers given that shortages encouraged the quest for alternatives. Despite a barrage of synthetic competitors and imports, domestic tung growers continued production in the hopes that the discovery of new industrial markets would increase demand and attract government support in the form of parity, tariffs, and quotas. Between 1949 and 1969, a series of agricultural policies granted protection but from the outset federal support proved reluctant and tenuous because production remained miniscule, quotas threatened to heighten diplomatic tensions, and wealthy, part-time growers comprised the bulk of parity recipients. Hurricane Camille has often received credit for bringing a swift end to the industry but imports, competitive oilseeds, synthetics, and freezes had delivered powerful blows to the extent that many farmers stopped growing tung long before 1969. Indeed, Camille proved nothing more than a death knell to a waning industry that had become dependent on government largesse.