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Chapter Twelve


The Stations as a Force for Progress

The American system of State Experiment Stations, dedicated to encouraging scientific initiative at research centers dispersed throughout the Nation, provides for the American people an enduring example of significant tax-supported research activity. The station administrators in each generation have successfully maintained the separate identity and the localized control of the station establishment. Moreover, they have repeatedly illustrated the soundness of the principle, first formulated in the Hatch Act of 1887, that local responsibility for research, financed in part by Federal authority but never dominated by that authority, economically and efficiently produces scientific dividends in a democratic society. Plurality and decentralization of organization and support of agricultural research have demonstrated their value and effectiveness, just as has our American system of divided and joint Federal and State responsibilities for so many other governmental activities.

The station movement has perennially prized the individual enterprise of its personnel and the autonomy of its member institutions. Simultaneously, however, it has participated prominently in building, with the collaboration of the Federal Department of Agriculture, a unique system of cooperation which has organized State and Federal funds, personnel, institutions, and resources of all types into the most comprehensive structure in the 20th century world for the continuous conduct of scientific research in agrculture. This pattern of cooperative activity, evolving steadily in a process of administrative adjustment to the needs of research, has sought to insure and to stimulate

eedom of expression for scientific initiative and, at the same time, to combine with local individualism and responsibility the benefits of centralized coordination.

The nationwide network of State stations has demonstrated a timetested capacity not only to serve the local and immediate interests of the people of each State but also to provide, via a continuous and systematic concentration on applied and basic research, scientific discoveries universally vital to human health and nutrition. The stations' record of outstanding accomplishments, which span the years from the discovery of the vitamin a half century ago to the discovery in recent years of streptomycin and dicoumarol, would fill the pages of a fascinating book. The American people would appreciate, could they know the story of the long-continued scientific productivity and the brilliant achievements which the illustrations in the present volume can only suggest, the continuing utility implicit in the station system for administering Federal grants to dispersed institutions. They would realize, furthermore, that research in agriculture via the station system has contributed in the past—and will contribute in the years to come-benefits so pervasive in the American way of life that the title “Biological Experiment Stations” would aptly designate the preeminent function and mission of these scientific institutions in the 20th century. Similarly they would recognize the merit of a most important feature of station activity; namely, the specialized training of graduate student-apprentices who assist top-notch scientists on station projects in every State.

The American people should not overlook, as they face decisionmaking in the troubled years ahead, the values perennially present in the station system for administering scientific research, a system developed patiently and managed carefully for decades before tax-supported research in nonagricultural applications achieved spectacular victories in man's endless attempts to solve the mysteries of his physical environment. American legislatures, both State and Federal, have through the years sought to keep the stations securely financed and thus insured the efficient operation of a scientific enterprise which, pioneered in the 19th century and astutely developed for the public benefit in the 20th century, has demonstrated its permanent usefulness. The American public can view with justifiable pride the carefully built capacity of its nationwide system of agricultural research. If adequately administered in future years, this system should yield a broad and steady penetration into the biological sciences.

Does not the station movement reveal in the present day, furtherinore, the instructive experience that governmental policy in other scientific areas could and should allocate Federal funds "to a wide number of [university-connected] institutions in a deliberate attempt to develop a geographically diversified research competence"! With these words President Eric A. Walker of the Pennsylvania State University stressed in November 1960 the current and many-faceted problem of the relation between the Federal Government and American universities in the sponsorship of scientific productivity. "In casting around for models on which to base these arrangements,” he noted with perceptive concern, “we have almost completely overlooked the oldest active program of this sort in the country. Yet, ironically, it is probably the most successful of them all. I'm speaking here of the Federal support program for agricultural research.” 1

The champions of the experiment station movement, America's first major experience with the nationwide administration of taxsupported scientific research, have consistently contended from the earliest years that the tax-paying public, the Federal and State legislators, and the professional station personnel must assume a collective responsibility for the steady encouragement of research in agriculture. Always, however, the station leadership has insisted that station men themselves accept the prime obligation for directing the development of their numerous institutions in the public interest. This obligation has expected each director to stimulate scientific enterprise in his station and his State. This obligation has also expected, no less firmly, the encouragement of cooperative endeavor and voluntary joint action among station leaders in the various States in order that American station research, guarding itself against too great a dis

* Walker, E. A., “Reorganization for Progress,” 74th Annual Meeting, American Association of Land-Grant Colleges and State Universities. 8 pp. (Processed.) Washington. November 16, 1960.

persion of its energy, could develop with interstate cohesiveness despite the geographic dispersion of the research institutions.


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The station movement in its century-long history has exhibited the vigor, the resourcefulness, and the independent individuality inherent in its democratic environment. No one in the western world would deny the importance of retaining these indigenous assets. The responsibilities of the coming years, however, require that the station men of the present generation build anew the esprit de corps characterizing the earlier years and, in addition, discipline themselves to a greater measure of group and cooperative activity. To achieve a balance between applied and basic research; to attract and recruit the finest talent as a working force; to maintain institutional strength and leadership; to take time, in the midst of daily pressures, to think and to plan: these realistic challenges confront the station directors in the dynamic world of today.

The perceptive wisdom of the Atwater-Johnson-Cook report applies as meaningfully in 1961 as it did in 1887. “The future usefulness of the stations will depend upon what they discover of permanent value," that trio of pioneer directors counseled, "and this must come largely from the most abstract and profound research.” 2 This maxim could well stand as the station motto across the land. The administrators and the scientists of today can take pride in the origins of their stations and draw inspiration from the enduring traditions and high standards established by their predecessors in the public service.

As the anniversary year begins, we come to the close of a text that began in modest form in reply to a scientist's question: "How old is ESCOP?” Members of that important policy-making committee themselves couldn't answer. So they took action to gather, assemble, and interpret the facts for the record. Those of us who have been able to observe for some years the integrity and dedication to principle that prevails when ESCOP and the Directors of Experiment Stations meet-differing frequently relative to means, but after careful evaluation and debate always adhering devotedly to decisions reachedhave faith in the future of the agricultural experiment stations. We know that great contributions will continue to come from them, as in the past. Even as this chapter ends, ESCOP is actively engaged in evaluating challenges that lie ahead.' Progressive and forward looking action was taken during its annual meeting in November 1961. It presages better coordination and planning of cooperative research in the future, and continued close working relations with the Department of Agriculture.

For those youthful scientists embarking on a career in agricultural research and to all others seeking to understand how publicly supported research, under a dual Federal-State system, can be democratically administered in a republic made up of 50 States, the record presented above is worthy of careful study.

The strength of the cooperative State-Federal agricultural research system, built on the framework of free governments as conceived under the Bill of Rights, reflects the brilliance of those who created

See Chapter 5, p. 65.

our political institutions. The great contributions contributed by the State Experiment Stations and the Department of Agriculture to scientific advancement and national progress reflect the highest quality of administrative decision making, intellectual democracy at its best.



“What Is Past Is Prologue" are the words inscribed near the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. To those engaged in agricultural research, both at the State experiment stations and in USDA, these words have a practical meaning.

Late in 1961 the Department of Agricultural Graduate School presented a Centennial Lecture Series, featuring five distinguished leaders, nationally recognized and each with some past practical experience in land-grant or USDA administration. The chairman of the series was Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Frank J. Welch, himself the former Dean of Agriculture and Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Kentucky.

Vernon Carstensen, historian and associate dean of the graduate school, University of Wisconsin, traced the modest beginnings of three items of legislation, recommended by Abraham Lincoln in his first annual message to Congress:

There is nothing in this modest, almost tentative proposal to suggest that during the next year Congress would pass three acts of monumental importance to American agriculture. The Department of Agriculture was created, the Homestead Act was finally adopted, and the Morrill Act was passed providing public lands for the establishment of colleges of agriculture. All were adopted during the second year of the Civil War and, except for the Homestead Act, received very little notice. That was true then. It seems to be almost true today thanks to the ardent and aggressive 'celebration of the centennial of the Civil War.

Many men of George Washington's generation assumed the perfectability of man and society. Equally important was the companion idea that man not only could improve himself but ought to do so. Although much of the eager innocence of a century and a half ago has been dissipated by bitter experience, one has only to consider the assumptions underlying many of our public actsour technical aid programs, our enormous expenditures for education and research-to realize that we continue to live in that faith.

Concerning the part of the agricultural experiment stations in subsequent administrative developments, Dr. Carstensen said:

The experiment station development with its close and intimate connection with the Department of Agriculture, represents a unique achievement as a national cooperative research establishment supported by State and Federal funds. It was important for the scientific investigations conducted; it was important for demonstrating the fruitfulness of collaborative research so brilliantly revealed in the cattle fever inquiries; and it was also important, in a much more subtle way, in providing the example of how organized research could be conducted.

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“Profile of the USDA-First Fifty Years” address by Vernon Carstensen, University of Wisconsin in the Centennial Lecture Series, Graduate School, in Thomas Jefferson Auditorium, USDA, Washington, D.C., October 25, 1961.

N.B.--This lecture and the other four in the series are available in processed form from the USDA Graduate School. They will be combined in a volume to be published by the USDA Graduate School. The remaining footnotes are from addresses given before the 75th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. These may be read in processed form and will be published in the Association Proceedings.

Another centennial series lecturer was Jesse W. Tapp, economist and vice president of California's Bank of America. The following are excerpts from what he said: 4

The Hatch Act in 1887 established an Experiment Station for each Land Grant college and set up funds and guidelines for research designed to make farmers more efficient. In 1914 the Smith-Lever Act established the FederalState Extension Service, thus completing the three-cornered program of teaching, research and extension by the Land Grant Colleges.

The establishment of the USDA and the Land Grant College system was an attempt to improve the opportunities for rural people. Prior to that time, only the relatively wealthy normally attended universities. The new program meant the opportunity for a college education would be available to just about everyone who wanted it and who was otherwise determined to get it. Furthermore, it elevated the study of agriculture and the mechanical arts to the university level.

Although in actual dollars it doesn't bulk very large, relative to the cost of other factors, the most significant inputs that were made in American agriculture, I believe, are those spent in the establishment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Land Grant College System, and their subsequent programs of research and education. In few, if any, other ventures has the marginal productivity of capital been so great.

In the same series Hon. Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture from 1932 to 1940, and subsequently Vice President of the United States said : 5

We cannot turn our backs on science or on world hunger. When I was Secretary many people suggested that we should greatly curtail or halt altogether our scientific research programs because they contributed to the surplus problem. Since I left the Department in 1940, farm workers have been increasing their efficiency at the rate of 4.6 percent a year. One farm worker today can support 26 people. In 1940 one farm worker could support only 11 people. .

We should be proud of our ever expanding agricultural technology. Properly used, our technology and our surpluses represent national strength, not weakness. Only in agriculture is it definitely certain that we shall remain superior to the rest of the world for many years to come. Food and our technological skills properly used can help the crowded hungry lands into a position to help themselves.

From among the Land-Grant College Presidents of 1961, President James H. Hilton of Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, a former director of the North Carolina Experiment Station, voiced the following challenges:

In a world in which great masses of men are still lacking the bare necessities for existence itself, in a world in which a growing population is pressing ever harder on existing resources, the Land-Grant college must continue to carry on research which will increase the world's capacity to produce more food, more clothing, more shelter, more of the things that make life comfortable.

But our research task can no longer end there. The Land-Grant colleges can no longer see their major research function as solely that of discovering the means for more abundant production of either manufactured or agricultural goods. Nor can we assume that our only research task today is to make scientific and technological discoveries which will "put us ahead” in the nuclear and space fields as vital as these needs may be in the times in which we live.



• "Contributions of Agriculture to Our Economy", address by Jesse W. Tapp, Bank of America, given in the Centennial Lecture Series, Graduate School, Thomas Jefferson Auditorium, USDA, Washington, D.C., October 11, 1961.

"The Department as I Have Known It" address given by Henry A. Wallace in the Centennial Lecture Series, Graduate School, Thomas Jefferson Auditorium, USDA, Washington, D.C., November 1, 1961.

“The Land-Grant College : Past and Present," address by President James H. Hilton, Iowa State University, in the Centennial Lecture Series, USDA Graduate School, given in the Jefferson Auditorium, USDA, Washington, D.C., October 18, 1961.

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