Idaho is commonly known for it’s potato. Those in Idaho will boldly argue against anyone else’s claim to potato fame and anyone outside of the state generally first thinks of a potato when Idaho is mentioned (that is once they’ve realized it isn’t Ohio or Iowa). And to be honest, here at the University of Idaho Special Collections and Archives, we love potatoes whether they be baked, mashed, or turned into a fry. Often overlooked by the masses, however, are those researchers that help make potatoes great. In today’s post we are going to take a quick look at a prominent potato researcher, Willy Iritani, who spent several years at working at the University of Idaho research station in Aberdeen, Idaho.
Dr. Willy Masao Iritani grew up on a vegetable farm on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado and during World War II, ran the farm while his siblings enlisted in the military. When the war was over, he took his interest and experience in farming and began his studies. After receiving a degree from University of Minnesota, Iritani came to the University of Idaho to complete a Masters of Science in Horticulture, which he completed in 1953. Receiving a Fulbright Scholarship in 1954 where he went to research on vegetables at Kyoto University. He would go on to receive a doctorate degree in horticulture from the University Illinois at Urbanan-Champaign in 1958.
After completing his PhD, Dr. Iritani accepted a job at the University of Idaho’s research station in Aberdeen, Idaho. He published his research in several of the university’s Agricultural Extension Service Bulletins, including an article entitled “Press Wheels for Idaho Potato Planters” in 1966. The bulletin doesn’t include any pictures of Dr. Iritani, but in processing a collection of Agricultural Extension Service photographs we found one of Dr. Iritani and a press wheel, likely taken during his research used for that article.
In 1968, Dr. Iritani became faculty at Washington State University in Pullman (we forgive him). He would spend the rest of his career there, where his research helped to improve the production, storage, and processing of potatoes. Washington State University has the Dr. W.M. Iritani Memorial Scholarship and Research Fellowship. This scholarship is used to “support research efforts that promote and enhance furthering the knowledge and improvement of potato production, storage, and processing in Washington State.”
- “Willy Masao Iritani”, The Seattle Times, 5 September 2021
- “Idaho Grad Student Gets Scholarship”, The Idaho Argonaut, 28 April 1953.
- Dr. W.M. Iritani Memorial Scholarship and Research Fellowship