Throwback Thursday: FPL’s 1920 Bowling Team

For a blog on wood research, Lab Notes features a surprising amount of posts about sports.

Our researchers’ work has touched the world of basketball because of the floors, baseball because of the bats, and bowling because of the pins (and maybe also because we’re located in Wisconsin, home to more bowling alleys than any other state in the nation).

It’s bowling that gets a mention again today, after librarian Julie Blankenburg found a few gems in the historic records of the FPL library, photos of a team from 1920 and a bowling banquet.

FPL bowling team, 1920
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Throwback Thursday: A League of Their Own

Baseball bats have been a focus of research at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in recent years, but in our early days, they were the focus of fun, too.

Click image to see larger in Flickr.

Click image to see larger in Flickr.

These fantastic photos dated July 28, 1919, show an FPL women’s softball game in full swing, along with the team photos. The teams were named the Wings and the Propellers as a nod to the important research on aircraft that was conducted at FPL during World War I.

Click image to see larger in Flickr.

Click image to see larger in Flickr.

Click image to see larger in Flickr.

Click image to see larger in Flickr.

Special thanks to Julie Blankenburg in the FPL Library for finding and sharing these gems!

Throwback Thursday: Fun in the Sun

Wisconsin may be well known for cold winters, but summertime in the Badger State can be hot. Lucky for us, the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) is located just a short walk from Madison’s Lake Mendota, and decades ago employees took full advantage of the opportunity to cool off in the clear water.


Click to view larger image in Flickr.

These photos from 1919 show it wasn’t all work and no play at the Lab. Employees participated in swimming matches, with many spectators watching from the banks, cheering them on.


Click to view larger image in Flickr.

Afterwards, of course, it was time for the workers to dive back into their endeavors of helping to turn the Lab into the powerhouse research facility it is today.

Throwback Thursday: Colorful Solution Saves Time and Money

Red oak and white oak logs can be difficult to tell apart, but only one group is susceptible to the devastating fungus that causes oak wilt.

In the 1980s, to prevent importation of oak wilt-prone red oak wood into the European market area, all oak logs had to be fumigated before shipment, since it was difficult to distinguish between the two groups. Fumigation was a costly, time-consuming process.

Enter Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers, who developed a quick, simple commercial test that used a chemical solution to separate white oak from red oak.

Researchers found that spraying a 10 percent solution of sodium nitrite on the ends of oak logs differentiates red from white oak by the color that results after applying the solution.

Sodium nitrite test: dark purple to black indicates white oak, orange indicates red oak.

Sodium nitrite test: dark purple to black indicates white oak, orange indicates red oak.

To verify the accuracy of the method, 10,000 oak logs among 17 white oak and 18 red oak species at 30 sawmills throughout the eastern United States were tested. FPL research passed the test with flying (purple and orange) colors!

The tests fulfilled the importation requirements by the European Economic Community Commission, saving time and money.

This and hundreds more interesting historic tales of FPL research can be found in Forest Products Laboratory 1910-2010: Celebrating a Century of Accomplishments.

Throwback Thursday: Studying Wood Density

The density of a tree significantly affects the properties of wood products. Density is determined by a number of factors, including wood species, growth condition (such as type of soil, available water, and sunlight) and competition from other trees and plants.

This image of two southern pine logs below shows the drastic effect growth conditions can have on wood density. Although both were of the same species, the tree on the left grew slowly and has high density, whereas the tree on the right grew quickly and has low density.


The density of a tree can be determined before it’s cut down using an increment borer to sample the wood in the tree. This photo from the 1960s show’s Forest Service employee Richard Nielsen taking a sample with an increment borer.


Here’s what the increment borer wood sample looks like: CORENote the annual growth rings. By counting the rings, the age of the tree can be determined; measuring the space between the rings can estimate the rate of growth. The density can also be estimated by weighing the sample and knowing its volume.

A western wood density survey was conducted in the 1960s by FPL along with industry and university partners. Some timber was commercially inaccessible, such as this sample of Englemann spruce, which had to be packed out of the forest on horseback.

135387-6Back at the Lab, the researchers got to work. Here, Dimitri Pronin and Arnie Okkonen weigh disks of wood to determine specific gravity.