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.


Iowa State University College of Agriculture – The Beginning

Morrill Act

On July 2, 1862, President Lincoln signed into law a measure submitted by Justin Morrill of Vermont, allowing federal lands to be sold to finance at least one college in each state whose curriculum would include the traditional classical studies, but would emphasize subjects related to the nation’s agricultural and industrial development. Iowa became the first state to accept the terms of the Morrill Land Grant Act and on March 29, 1864, the Iowa General Assembly voted to award Iowa’s grant to the Agricultural College near Ames. At first, the “Course in Agriculture” concentrated on the basic sciences. It included only limited practical work in animal husbandry, agronomy and horticulture. Other practical studies were added — the nation’s first forestry course in 1874 and dairying in 1880 — but the basic sciences carried the program until 1890, when Iowa farm leaders pushed for a reorganization that ultimately moved Iowa State to the forefront in agricultural education. In 1896, Iowa State College was renamed Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.

Fast fact: The College developed the nation’s first Master of Science program in farm mechanics in 1902 and a pioneer endeavor in agricultural journalism in 1904.


Iowa State University Extension – The Beginning

Corn Train

Iowa State began pioneering work in extension when President Adonijah Welch and Professor of Agriculture Isaac Roberts presented a series of off-campus farmers’ institutes during the winter of 1870-71. In 1901, Iowa State offered a two-week short course for herdsmen, the first program of its kind in the nation. In 1903, the nation’s first cooperative agricultural extension program was launched when Iowa State professor Perry Holden, a group of farmers in Sioux County, and the county’s board of supervisors created a plan to educate farmers about improving seed corn. This effort included demonstration farms, institutes and seed corn exhibit trains traveling from town to town. In January 1904, Holden conducted the nation’s first off-campus short course in agriculture in Red Oak. In 1906, the nation’s first state-financed Agricultural and Home Economics Extension Service was established at Iowa State, with Holden as its first director. The Smith-Lever Cooperative Extension Act of 1914 provided support of extension work on a state-federal matching funds basis. Iowa was the first state fully organized under the Smith-Lever Act.

Fast fact: Extension News Service was established in 1921. That fall an experimental radio station built by Iowa State electrical engineers began farm market broadcasts. Two years later, farm news programming on Iowa State’s radio station WOI became an Extension function.


Ralph Bliss

Ralph Bliss

Ralph Bliss was born on a stock and grain farm near Diagonal in southern Iowa. His father died when he was 13 years old, leaving him and his older brother to run the farm. At the Iowa State Fair, Bliss learned that “any boy of good character” could enter a preparatory program at Iowa State College and he became Ringgold County’s first student there. He graduated in 1905, and after a year on the home farm, returned to Iowa State as head of animal husbandry in the newly established Extension Service. He was appointed director in 1914. When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Extension distributed more than 560,000 bulletins on food and clothing economy, food production and food preservation. By 1918, there was an extension office in every Iowa county. Early anticipation of the national need for increased food production for World War II gave Bliss a head start in helping coordinate federal and state agency activities that increased Iowa food production far beyond national averages.

Fast fact: Bliss began weekly radio talks on WOI Radio in 1932, which he continued until 1968 at the age of 87.


Iowa State Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station – The Beginning

Experiment Station Barn

The Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station was established March 2, 1888. Seaman Knapp, professor of agriculture at Iowa State College, had authored a proposal to fund experiment stations connected with the state agricultural colleges out of the national treasury. Frustrated after failing to convince the Iowa Legislature to fund an experiment station and unable to interest the federal government in addressing local farm problems, Knapp devised a solution which combined state and federal support. The Knapp proposal was introduced in Congress by Iowa Representative Syrus C. Carpenter, but it languished. In 1886, the House Agriculture committee had at least seven station proposals to consider. The chairman, William H. Hatch of Missouri, recommended a bill to the full House. The Hatch Act was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland on March 2, 1887. It was identical to the original version written by Knapp in two ways. Each experiment station was to “conduct original researches or verify experiments…on subjects bearing directly upon the agricultural industry of the United States” and was given $15,000 annually to do so. Today, research by the Iowa Experiment Station serves producers, agribusinesses, rural communities and policymakers.

Fast fact: While on an experiment station research appointment, John Vincent Atanasoff designed and built the first electronic digital computer.


Seaman Knapp

Seaman Knapp

A New York native, Seaman Knapp and his wife, Maria, were running Ripley Female College in Vermont when he sustained a crippling knee injury while playing ball with the girls. To find a cure, the couple moved to Vinton, Iowa, in 1866. The couple farmed, he became a Methodist minister and later director of the Iowa School for the Blind. He gained notice as a stockman, speaker and farm journalist, and in 1879 was appointed to head Iowa State’s program in agriculture. Knapp’s strongest interest was promoting farm experimentation. He authored the original version of what became the Hatch Act and led the movement that created the national cooperative extension network in 1914. He served a one-year term as president of Iowa State College in 1883-1884, before leaving to enter a distinguished career in southern agriculture. He helped develop the rice industry in Louisiana and set up a demonstration system to promote better farming practices to combat the boll weevil in Texas.

Fast fact: Knapp Hall, one of two residence halls south of the Iowa State University campus demolished in 2005, was named for Seaman Knapp.

*Some historic photographs courtesy of the University Archives.