Gerrit van Iterson and the Dutch East Indies

The history of the TU Delft Hortus Botanicus is closely connected to the agriculture of our former largest colony, the Dutch East Indies, and to Gerrit van Iterson Jr. (1878-1972), who was in charge of the Delft garden from 1917 to 1948. From 1880 to 1910 scientific interest in tropical agriculture increased greatly. Initiated by the famous botanic garden in Buitenzorg (now Bogor) a network of testing stations emerged where a broad range of scientific research was conducted. Especially large-scaled crops, like coffee, sugar, tobacco, rubber, and tea, were targeted, but influenced by increasing ‘ethical colonial politics’, crops that the native population traditionally had cultivated were also given scientific attention.

During this period of increasing interest in tropical botany, Van Iterson got his first degree, from what was then still called the Polytechnic School, in 1901. In addition to the usual curriculum he also took two courses which brought him into contact with two illustrious Delft professors: M.W. Beijerinck, the founder of modern microbiology, and H. Behrens, who taught microchemistry.

In 1902 Van Iterson got an assistantship with Beijerinck and six years later he received his doctorate cum laude with a thesis strongly characterized by higher mathematics. It received excellent reviews and continued to be cited even in the 1970s.  

Gerrit van Iterson

Beijerinck Museum