Wofford B. "Bill" Camp | Legacy of Leadership Profile

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Wofford Benjamin Camp (1894–1986)

Wofford B. "Bill" Camp rose from humble beginnings as a Cherokee County farm boy to become one of the most important thinkers in the history of agriculture. Although the successful production of cotton in California was his most notable achievement, he spent much of his life promoting individual rights and free enterprise and fighting socialism and big government.    

Camp was born March 14, 1894, at Camp's Crossroads in Cherokee County, the sixth of eight children of John Clayton and Mary Jane Atkins Camp.

He first attended a one-room, one-teacher school in Possum Trot and later went to Central Grade School in Gaffney. In those days, school attendance was often dictated by the demands of the family farm.

When Bill Camp was 17, Clemson College officials went to Gaffney to administer entrance exams. His sister, Maggie, encouraged him to take the test, although he had not finished the eighth grade. He passed and won a scholarship valued at $100. At Clemson, fellow students called him "Bill," and he remained Bill Camp for the rest of his life.

He majored in agronomy and minored in horticulture at Clemson and graduated fifth in his class of 119 in the spring of 1916.

After graduation, the United States Department of Agriculture employed him in a summer job at Combahee Plantation in Colleton County, which was being used as an experiment station. On a visit to the plantation, Dr. O. F. Cook, who was in charge of the USDA's Cotton Breeding Office in Washington, met Camp, learned of his interest in cotton, and invited him to join his staff.    

Camp's first task was to develop a reliable source of long-staple cotton needed by the Air Corps to cover the wings of the emerging flying machines. In 1917, he was sent to Kern County in California's San Joaquin Valley to see what modern agronomy could do with cotton in the West.    

He was in California only days before he had planted 96 short rows of cotton of several varieties. Seven weeks after he arrived in California, experimental cotton patches dotted the state's Central Valley and acreage in Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Egyptian Pima was selected as the most promising variety, and once the cotton crop was planted and Camp's records updated, he attempted to enlist in the Armed Forces. But he was regarded as indispensable by USDA officials and the Army.

By the time World War I ended, cotton had become a promising agricultural crop for California, and Camp was known as the "King of Cotton" and "the Cotton Man." By 1922, he had founded and was directing the Cotton Research Station in Kern County.

Meanwhile, he had met Georgia Anna App of Bakersfield, and they married on December 14, 1921. They became the parents of two sons, Wofford Benjamin, Jr., and Donald Max.

In 1929, he was offered a job  in San Francisco with the Bank of Italy, predecessor to the Bank of America as an appraiser and advisor. The Bank of Italy held mortgages on thousands of ranches, and countless ranchers who could not meet their mortgage payments abandoned their land.    

He accepted the job, and he and Georgia moved their family to Fresno. Camp was 34 years old when he began his new career. He subsequently became director of California Lands, Inc., a Bank of America subsidiary.

In 1933, the Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed, and beginning in 1934, Camp, through a sense of duty, spent three stormy years in Washington as fiscal director of the Cotton Division of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration.

In November 1936, he returned to the San Joaquin Valley and resumed farming. He built a diversified, widespread farming operation in California, Washington State, and South Carolina.

Today, his son, Don, operates W. B. Camp & Son, Inc.,  which is concentrated in Kern County, California, but also includes land in Cherokee County in South Carolina.

In 1943, Georgia became ill with pneumonia and died after five days, exactly as his mother had.    

In 1955, while perusing The State, the South Carolina newspaper to which he subscribed, he was struck by photographs of a beautiful woman driving a tractor, playing a piano, and checking bags of cotton in a field.

The subhead read, "Mrs. Louise Wise of Trenton Learned to Farm from Necessity She Produces Outstanding Crops and Continues Her Concert Career." He picked up the telephone and called her. She had three children, Addie Louise, Georgia, and Sarah. Bill and Louise were married January 18, 1956, in her home.

Camp received numerous honors, among them the Horatio Alger Award. In 1968, he received a citation from President Lyndon B. Johnson for his efforts and contributions to American agriculture.

Camp served as a trustee of Whittier College, the Freedoms Foundation, and the federal Bureau of Water Resources. He was a director, vice president, and treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, director of the Agricultural Hall of Fame, and director of the National Rivers and Harbors Congress.

He received honorary degrees from Limestone College, Whittier College, and Clemson University.

In 1972, he became a director of the National Right to Work Committee, and on May 8, 1980, the committee's new headquarters in Springfield, Virginia, was named the W. B. and Louise Phifer Camp Building.

The "Father of Cotton" died August 1, 1986, in Bakersfield. He was 92. Louise Camp died December 13, 1990.

Camp was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1993.    


© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame