Louis A. Wolfanger was born January 3, 1896 in Nebraska. He studied geography and soils in college and completed his PhD in geography and geology at Colombia University. Before his position at Michigan State University, Wolfanger taught soil geography and economic geography at a number of schools, including the University of Nebraska and Colombia University, and briefly at the Universities of Cincinnati, Washington, and Northwestern.
At Michigan State, he served as an Associate Professor of Soil Science, specializing in land use and zoning, from 1937 until his retirement in 1966. Wolfanger lived in East Lansing with his wife, Henrietta Rodemann, from 1937 until his death in 1971. They had two children, Karl and Curt. His self-described hobbies were, “chiefly travel, photography, gardening, and outdoor sports.” He was also involved in a number of organizations, including the National Council on Land Classification, the Michigan Planning Commission on Rural Zoning, the Michigan Academy of Science, the Association of American Geographers, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and the Soils Science Society of America. During his work with the National Council he developed an instrument able to record distances down to one-five-hundredth of a mile for survey work, which became widely used by governmental agencies.
His focus on land use and zoning requirements stemmed from his interest in conserving and improving what he called, “…the quality and well-being of our rural, small town, and ‘rurban’ communities.” His inspiration came from studying both geography and soil science, saying he recognized that, “…geographers knew little about the soil environment and its human and geographic significance and that soil technicians were similarly unaware of the significant social and economic relationships of soils.” He believed that, “zoning…offers the local people of a community an opportunity to decide for themselves just how they had best live together,” because “Farms, recreational opportunities, businesses, homes, and the families that fail are all casualties for the entire community. The use of the land – good or bad – affects everybody.”
The Louis Wolfanger collection includes soil science and geography course material.
Included are course outlines and exams from soil science classes and a geography class for the Army Air Corps at MSU, blank doctorate exams for Wolfanger’s former students at MSU, and correspondence and information regarding meetings on zoning. There are also lectures on soil science from C.F. Marbut and H.H. Bennett, professors associated with the United States Department of Agriculture Graduate School. There is also a copy of Wolfanger’s book, The Major Soil Divisions of the United States. Other material includes lecture notes, exams, and newspaper and journal articles from Wolfanger’s geography courses at Colombia University and other universities. These courses include the Geography of Europe, the Geography of Latin America, and the Geography of Africa and Australia.
Wolfanger’s courses on the Geography of Europe and Africa might explain the large collection of glass slides also found in his collection. Although there is no evidence that he visited either area, he possessed dozens of slides documenting agriculture and life in Algeria, Spain, Austria, Norway, and Finland. A new exhibit found at the Archives’ website here has a number of these slides.