The timber industry has played an important role in the economy and culture of West Virginia throughout much of its history. In the early-19th century, the hardwood forests of the Allegheny Mountains supported the cutting of timber for building construction and the production of charcoal. Later in the century, the production of paper from wood pulp became a major driver in the state's economy. However, by the 20th century, the market for the timber products exported from West Virginia was changing. At the same time, the environmental impacts of over a century of extensive cutting were also becoming evident.
Along with its major role in conserving forests in West Virginia, the Forest Service has also conducted significant research at its laboratories located throughout the state. Early in his senatorial career, Senator Byrd recognized the benefits an expansion of the Forest Service’s presence in the state could have for West Virginia's declining timber industry. Senator Byrd sought federal appropriations to support increased research on the conservation of forest lands and new and more efficient ways of marketing hardwood products that could be responsibly harvested and produced in West Virginia.
Forest Service scientists at the laboratory analyzed markets in which timber products had previously dominated to determine how current harvesting/production methods could be improved to increase market value. One area which the laboratory explored was the development of a new method of shaping wooden railroad crossties. By the 1960s, concrete crossties had taken over a large share of the market once solely supplied by timber. In response, the laboratory determined that by cutting the timber crossties with beveled edges, timber ties could be strengthened to a level where they would compete with the newer concrete products.
However, scientists at Princeton were not only seeking ways to reinvigorate existing markets; they also examined new uses for West Virginia hardwoods. Recognizing the growing problem of aging, deteriorating residential structures in cities across the United States, the laboratory developed a new construction system that could be used to level sloping floors. The “Marcraft Floor Leveling System” utilized pre-fabricated wooden beams that could be placed in a room and leveled over the existing floor using a contracting foam (also produced in West Virginia) which bound the new framing to the existing floor. Once the framing was in place and leveled, a new floor could be installed.
The Princeton Forest Service Laboratory continues to operate today, fifty-five years after its creation. The laboratory is currently part of the U.S. Forest Service's "Ecological and Economic Sustainability of the Appalachian Forest in an Era of Globalization" program, which also includes the Forest Service laboratory in Parsons, West Virginia, another project supported by Senator Byrd in the early-1960s.