American chestnut trees were once an important part of the Nation’s eastern forests, making up one out of four trees in many places. Known as the “Redwood of the East,” their nuts were important food for people and wildlife, and their timber was ideal for furniture and other products. Around 1900, a foreign fungus called chestnut blight swept through eastern forests, and by the 1950s, more than four billion American chestnut trees were gone.
Occasionally, someone found a live tree. A persistent few would not give up on the chestnut. Around 1904, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station began programs to develop a blight-resistant strain. Efforts failed, and the USDA discontinued their program in 1960. Nobody knew then that some of their strains would indeed become important parts of the modern breeding program.
Armed with a new understanding of genetics, scientists and supporters renewed their efforts in the 1980s, which saw the formation of a non-proﬁt organization called the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). The organization established research farms with several cooperators.