Marlin Cline ’42, Soil Science

Marlin Cline
Marlin Cline, courtesy of the Ithaca Journal

Marlin Cline once recalled working on a bio-oil project that attempted to harness dandelions as a crop. This, he remarked, proved to be much more difficult than growing them as a weed. But such obstacles were not enough to stand in Cline’s way. Over the course of his career, he became one of the country’s leading experts in soil classification, developing the U.S. Soil Taxonomy System still used by the U.S.D.A.

Like many who came to Cornell to study agriculture, Marlin Cline was a Midwesterner, raised on a farm and already experienced in the hard work of running a homestead. He had come to Cornell after several years carrying out soil surveys all over the country. And, after finishing his doctorate, his work took him all over the world.

Cline’s specialty was soil classification, particularly tropical soils. He supported the war effort during World War II by working as a strategic intelligence analyst, advising the military about how soil conditions would affect troop movements in Southeast Asia.

After the war, he returned to Cornell, where he would spend his entire 35-year academic career. But he wasn’t bound to Ithaca. He traveled to the University of the Philippines to help rebuild their agricultural department after it was shattered by Japanese occupation during World War II. Cline also worked extensively in Brazil, establishing the country to become the agricultural powerhouse that it is today. He also traveled to the Cold War-era Soviet Union as a member of a State Department mission.

Wherever he went, his passion for his work (and his sense of humor) came through. “Soil scientists,” he said at the age of 96, when addressing a meeting of researchers, “can’t wait to see what is on the other side of the hill.” Cline passed away in 2009, in Ithaca, at the age of 99.