Burrill, Thomas J. (Thomas Jonathan) (1839-1916) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Burrill, Thomas J. (Thomas Jonathan) (1839-1916)

Historical Note:

Thomas Jonathan Burrill (1839-1916) worked nearly half a century at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1868-1912), serving as assistant professor of botany and natural history (1868-70), professor of botany and horticulture (1870-1912), UIUC Herbarium Curator (1890-1912), Dean of the College of Science (1878-84), Dean of the Graduate School (1894-1905), and Acting President of the University (1891-94 and 1904). He was a respected university administrator and a pioneering American mycologist and plant pathologist, who was "the first to discover a bacterial cause of disease in plants" (UIUC Library).

Burrill was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on April 25, 1839. He graduated from Illinois State Normal University in 1865 and worked as superintendent of public schools in Urbana, Illinois, before accepting the role of botanist on John Wesley Powell's expedition to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado in 1867. Burrill joined the faculty at UIUC in 1868, and he became a leader in the early study of bacteria, earning a master's from Northwestern University (1876) and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1881). In 1880, he documented bacteria's role in creating a pear blight, which was the first discovery of its kind. His research interests included "bacteriology, plant pathology, microscopy, and the application of scientific research to the agricultural and commercial needs of the state of Illinois" (UIUC Library). Widely respected by his contemporaries, he was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Chicago (1881), Northwestern University (1893), and UI (1912). He was active in his field, serving as President of the American Microscopical Society (1885â??86) and the American Bacteriologists (1916).

The UIUC campus building Burrill Hall is named in his honor.


"History of the Biology Library, Burrill Hall," UIUC Library, accessed April 27, 2020, https://www.library.illinois.edu/biology/history/.

Smith, Erwin F. "In Memoriam: Thomas J. Burrill," Journal of Bacteriology 1, no. 3 (May 1916): pp. 269â??71. Accessed online, April 27, 2020, https://jb.asm.org/content/jb/1/3/ii.full.pdf.

Wikipedia, s.v. "Thomas Jonathan Burrill," accessed April 27, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jonathan_Burrill.

"History," Department of Plant Biology (UIUC), accessed April 28, 2020, https://sib.illinois.edu/plantbio/history.

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