Iowa State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Celebrating 150 Years of Excellence in Agriculture at Iowa State

150 Points of Pride

The Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a proud and distinguished history. As part of Iowa State's sesquicentennial celebration, 150 points of pride related to the College - accomplishments, discoveries, contributions, highlights, famous and interesting people - will be posted here. These postings will coincide with 150 days of the 2007-2008 academic year, beginning Aug. 20, 2007 and ending May 2, 2008, with time off for the Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks. Check back each Monday for five new items.


First agricultural engineering department

The Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering’s roots are traced to 1905 when Jay Davidson organized the Department of Farm Mechanics, creating the first agricultural engineering department in the world. Although this marked the first time agricultural engineering was recognized as a department, the subject had been studied since 1858 at Iowa State with the formation of the Agricultural College. An additional to Agricultural Hall was built in 1905 to house the Department of Farm Mechanics. A separate building, the Agricultural Engineering Laboratory, was built in 1923 and destroyed by a fire in 1941. The present building was constructed on the same site. In 1972, a second program, Agricultural Mechanization was established. In 1991, the Agricultural Engineering program became known as Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE) and the Agricultural Mechanization program name was changed to Agricultural Systems Technology (AST). In 2004, the Department of Industrial Education and Technology moved from the College of Education to merge with the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. The department is administered jointly by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. 
Fast fact: The agricultural engineering program was ranked #2 in the country in the U.S. News & World Report's 2008 "America's Best Colleges" annual rankings. The ranking is based on the opinions of deans and senior engineering faculty nationwide.


Jay Brownlee Davidson
Earl Heady
Jay Brownlee Davidson

Davidson is recognized as the founder of agricultural engineering. He was a rural Nebraska native and a 1904 mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Nebraska. He arrived in Ames in 1905 to take a position as associate professor-in-charge of agricultural engineering. Davidson is credited with giving farm mechanics professional status, developing the four-year agricultural engineering program that was first in the nation. The program he developed at Iowa State also set the pattern for programs later adopted by nearly all United States and Canadian institutions offering degrees in agricultural engineering. In 1907, he was the creative force behind the formation of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) and was elected as the first ASAE president, further promoting the profession of agricultural engineering. Davidson joined the University of California faculty in 1915, but returned to Iowa State in 1919 as head of agricultural engineering. He retired from administrative duties in 1946 and from the faculty in 1956.

Fast fact: In 1975, the Agricultural Engineering Building was renamed Davidson Hall in honor of the department's founder. Fundraising is underway to construct a new building to house the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.


E.V. Collins

Whirlwind Terracer

From 1923-1926, agricultural engineer E.V. Collins of Iowa State College did extensive research to determine what a team of horses could be expected to pull on a daily basis. Professor Collins developed a number of machines to measure the draft on various farm implements. He also developed a specially built machine to test the maximum pulling power of a team of horses. Next Collins turned his attention to farm equipment. Interest in soil conservation was increasing. The idea of building broad-based terraces was being explored, with most were being built using moldboard plows. Collins had experimented with using power take-offs on tractors to power tillage equipment. Rather than using a drawbar to pull a piece of tillage equipment through the soil, he began to experiment with some sort of rotating object that would dig up the soil and then throw it into the air and to the side, thereby building a terrace. The novel idea worked and the equipment was dubbed a “whirlwind terracer.” The device was not patented, and before long several farm equipment companies were manufacturing their own version. Today, whirlwind terracers are most often found at estate sales and used machinery auctions, but the idea originated at Iowa State. 

Fast fact: The Iowa Experiment Station received its first patent in 1926 for the device Collins designed to measure the pulling strength of a team of horses.


Large round hay baler invented
Bruce Babcock
Wes Buchele, Virgil Haverdink

In the fall of 1965, agricultural engineering graduate student Virgil Haverdink entered Professor Wesley Buchele’s office and asked for a suggestion for his master’s thesis research project. Buchele, who had been sketching large round balers for years, suggested he build a large round baler. The goals they established for the baler were it must be able to wrap windrowed hay into large round bales, transport the bale in the baler, unload the bale from the baler, reload the bale into the baler, and feed the bale into fence-line bunks for animals. Haverdink went to work in the machine shop, fabricating a large round baler. He baled second cutting alfalfa in the summer of 1966, and continued the development of the baler with succeeding cuttings. During the last cutting, he baled 10 large round bales at 35 to 40 percent moisture content for long-term storage tests along with 30 small, square bales. Haverdink graduated and was immediately employed by Deere & Co. After three months of storage, Buchele and a Deere design engineer cut the large round bales apart with a hay knife and broke the square bales open. The square bales were moldy, but the leaves in the round bales were bright green and still attached to the stems. Farmers accepted the technology quickly, with more than 18 companies manufacturing large round balers in the late 1970s.

Fast fact: Wesley Buchele served Iowa State for 37 years as a faculty member from 1952-1989. He lives in Ames and is an emeritus professor of agricultural engineering.


Bert Benjamin

Farmall Tractor

Bert Benjamin, a native of Newton, graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Iowa State in 1893 and went on to invent the Farmall tractor, the first mass-produced row-crop tractor. Following his graduation, Benjamin worked as a draftsman-designer from 1893 until 1940 for McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which merged with several other farm implement companies in 1902 to form the International Harvester Company. In 1910, he was named supervisor for the McCormick Works experimental department. During his years with International Harvester, Benjamin was granted 140 patents for tractors and tractor accessories, including a cotton picker, corn shredder and corn binder. He also developed the power take-off system. Benjamin is best known for developing the Farmall tractor in 1921, the first tractor that could plow and cultivate row crops. Benjamin was awarded the Cyrus Hall McCormick Gold Medal by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers in 1943 and the Professional Achievement Citation in Engineering from Iowa State University. He died in October 1969.

Fast fact: There is one box of Bert Benjamin papers in the special collections department at Iowa State’s Parks Library. The papers include a poem he wrote titled “Snap Shots” and a variation he developed for playing the card game Bridge.

*Some historic photographs courtesy of the University Archives.

150 Points of Pride Archives