In his four decades with the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) from 1943 to 1983, Edwin Wellhausen played a central role in the Foundation's agricultural work in Mexico and in international agricultural development more broadly. Wellhausen's distinguished career included leading both the Mexican Agricultural Program (MAP) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico (known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT).
Wellhausen was born on September 10, 1907 in Fairfax, Oklahoma. He earned his B.S. in plant pathology from University of Idaho (1932), and his Ph.D. in genetics and plant breeding from Iowa State University (1936). After completing his doctorate, Wellhausen was a General Education Board Fellow at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and the Department of Physiology at the University of California, Berkeley, and then worked briefly for Agricultural Experiment Stations at Montana State College and West Virginia University.
In 1943, Mexican Agricultural Program Local Director (and future RF President) J. George Harrar selected Wellhausen to head the MAP's corn breeding efforts. Because corn was integral to the Mexican diet, his work focused on both boosting corn yields and developing hybrids that would improve Mexico's long-term corn production. After a decade leading the corn breeding program, Wellhausen succeeded Harrar as MAP Local Director, and held the position until 1958.
Wellhausen worked tirelessly to foster international cooperation toward the improvement of agricultural research and production. From 1959-1963, he was Director of the Inter-American Maize Improvement Program, which led to the establishment in 1963 of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico (CIMMYT), headquartered in Mexico City. Wellhausen served as CIMMYT's first Director General.
Wellhausen retired in June 1973, but spent the next decade as a Special Field Staff Member working on a variety of RF Latin American assignments. He continued to foster the development of international research institutes, counseled international governments and agricultural institutions, and consulted for the International Agricultural Development Service (IADS). He retired fully from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1983, when the Foundation closed its Mexico field office.
Over the course of his career, Wellhausen published dozens of articles about corn production, developed more than 60 hybrids and varieties of corn, and trained Latin American agronomists in the breeding and production of the crop. He received several awards and honors from the international community in recognition of his efforts. In 1969, the Mexican government awarded him the Order of the Aztec Eagle, First Class, the highest decoration granted to foreigners.
Edwin Wellhausen died on January 7, 2001. The Rockefeller Foundation Agricultural Program Oral History Interview with Wellhausen, as well as his officer's diary and records from the RF field office in Mexico can be accessed at the Rockefeller Archive Center.