On Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day, we’re heading back to the late 1800s to learn more about what led to the passage of the Hatch Act in 1887. The Hatch Act funds research at state agricultural experiment stations in land-grant institutions, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
The public mood was ripe for support of the stations. Farmers hard hit by the Banking Panic of 1873 mobilized to encourage Land-grant Colleges to offer applied, practical knowledge and training. Northeast farmers allied with the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry to ask the college system to create a system that was “broadly accessible, vocational, and uplifting, with the purpose of training rural youths in farming practice and returning them home fit to be farmers and community leaders.”
At the same time, the nation’s population was increasing rapidly. Immigrants in industrial areas demanded affordable food, clothing, and housing. Increased demand for American meat, grain, and cotton came from abroad. As a result, business and labor supported federal appropriations to stimulate agricultural production.
Scientists played a critical role in supporting the stations. They attended Grange and farmers’ meetings and visited farmers in the field to explain the benefits of applied research. Land-grant scientists formed the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science.
In 1882, the society held its first national convention and drafted the first legislation calling for public funding for state agricultural experiment stations. However, the bill never made it out of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Agriculture. Despite a growing constituency of supporters, it would be the first of several failed legislative attempts.
Finally, Rep. William H. Hatch, a Missouri Democrat, introduced the Hatch Bill. President Grover Cleveland signed the legislation on March 2, 1887, establishing a national system of agricultural experiment stations to serve the common good.
On this Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day, as we return to 2021, the Hatch Act reminds us of our agricultural heritage and NIFA’s steadfast support of agricultural experiment stations and the important work they do to benefit society.
Sorber, N.M. (2018). Land-Grant Colleges and Popular Revolt: The Origins of the Morrill Act and the Reform of Higher Education. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
True, A.C. (1937). A History of Agricultural Experimentation and Research in the United States, 1607-1925. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
United State Department of Agriculture Office of Experiment Stations. (February 1889). Organization of the Agricultural Experiment Stations, Bulletin No. 1.
United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). The Hatch Act of 1887. Retrieved from http://nifa.usda.gov/program/hatch-act-1887.