Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden between 1958-63 Dr. Frits Went (1903-1990) was born in Utrecht, Holland and received his Ph. D. from the University of Utrecht in 1927 with a focus on the study of plant hormones and their relationship to plant growth. He spent the next five years as plant physiologist for the Royal Botanical Garden of Buitenzorg, Java (now Bogar, West Jakarta, Indonesia) where developed a lasting interest in tropical vegetation and tropical plant growth requirements.
In 1933 he joined the faculty of the California Institute of Technology and began developing a facility featuring rooms in which humidity, temperature, and light could be precisely controlled for the purpose of biological study. The facility known as the Phytotron enabled the study of plants in various climates to better understand the requirements needed for optimal growth among various plant species.
By the 1950s Went had become a world renowned authority on plant growth and was highly sought after by many national and international committees. Seeking new challenges he accepted the position of Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden in May of 1958. Recognizing the Gardenís need to modernize and attract new visitors he sought to combine his love for plants and study with a new structure to replace the now obsolete Palm House which had fallen into disrepair.
Intent on creating a new structure that would symbolize a new era for the Garden as it celebrated its 100th anniversary he commissioned the Climatron in 1959 and coined the term itself. The Climatron became the first geodesic dome used as a greenhouse conservatory and featured different climatic zones with the idea being that the structure would serve as a public attraction and a research facility at the same time. While the Climatron never achieved success as a research facility due the inability to sustain microclimates within it nonetheless became an over night sensation as a public attraction and brought people back to the Garden in near record numbers.
Although the Climatron proved to be a great success Wentís tenure as director would be a short one. Disagreements with the Board of Trustees led to his decision to return to academics and he resigned in 1963. For the following two years he was a professor of Botany at Washington University in St. Louis and then became the director of the Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada-Reno, a position he would retain for the remainder of his career. His brief tenure helped put the Garden on track for a bright future after decades of decline and gave the Garden a lasting symbol with the construction of the Climatron. Went was recognized for his efforts and contributions to the Garden in 1990 when he was awarded the Henry Shaw Medal, the award is the highest honor that the Garden can bestow.