Texas A&M University (originally named the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas) was the state’s first public institution of higher education. It was organized by the state legislature in 1871 under the provisions of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862. The first students were enrolled in 1876. The Morrill Act donated public lands to the states and territories to provide colleges for teaching agriculture, “the mechanic arts,” and military tactics, as well as science and classical studies, to the nation’s working-class citizens.
Additionally, in 1876, the “Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas for Colored Youths” was established in Prairie View, Texas. It was expanded as a land-grant college as part of the 1890 Morrill Act.
The land-grant mission was expanded beyond teaching to research with the approval of the Hatch Act in 1887, providing federal support for the establishment of agricultural experiment stations and resources to solve critical problems confronting agriculture — problems such as Texas tick fever, which decimated cattle herds and thwarted domestic and international marketing, causing hard times throughout the state.
In 1903, Dr. Seaman A. Knapp, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who had helped to draft the Hatch Act, established community demonstration plots on the Walter C. Porter farm near Terrell, Texas, to implement new USDA recommendations for selecting, fertilizing, and cultivating crops. The demonstration was a great success, and the following year Dr. Knapp appointed 33 special agents to help Texas communities solve their special agricultural needs. This model defined a path for cooperative extension work nationwide.
By 1911, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas had helped scientific agriculture expand throughout the state. The department of agriculture and science was designated the School of Agriculture, later to become the College of Agriculture and, in 1989, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Texas A&M’s programs in teaching, research, extension, and service reached people in towns and cities as well as on farms and ranches.
Congress approved the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, providing for the establishment of the state-based agricultural extension services and further expanding the land-grant mission. In 1915, the Texas legislature organized the Texas Agricultural Extension Service (now the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service), which would bring scientific information from the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (now Texas A&M AgriLife Research) to every farm and community. County agents, home demonstration agents, specialists, and volunteers provided this outreach.
Boys’ and girls’ corn clubs and tomato clubs, organized between 1903 and 1914, were the forerunners of the remarkably successful Extension 4-H clubs, which today are expanding to serve an increasingly urban youth population. In addition to the Extension Service county offices, regional research and extension centers were established. Today 14 centers throughout the state serve the needs of rural and urban Texans and each region’s unique agribusiness sectors.
Also in 1915, the Texas legislature established the Texas A&M Forest Service, which is mandated by law to “assume direction of all forest interests and all matters pertaining to forestry within the jurisdiction of the state.” The Texas A&M Forest Service was the first state forestry agency placed within a land-grant university system.
In 1967, the legislature approved the creation of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, as a state agency administered by The Texas A&M University System. Its mission is twofold: to protect and support animal industries and to protect human health through detection and prevention of zoonotic diseases.
The Morrill Act not only made our land-grant university system possible but also established the mission to promote education, research, extension, and service in local communities. Today, its scope has expanded further than its originators could have imagined. Our mission is no longer isolated to “agriculture and the mechanic arts.” Agriculture and the life sciences have gone global and now reach throughout the areas of technology, medicine, and the social sciences.
Texas A&M AgriLife Timeline:
- 1876: Texas A&M University (originally named the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas) enrolls first students.
- 1887: Agricultural experiment stations created, which become Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
- 1911: Department of agriculture and science was designated the School of Agriculture, later to become the College of Agriculture and, in 1989, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
- 1915: Texas Agricultural Extension Service organized (now the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service).
- 1915: Texas A&M Forest Service established and was the first state forestry agency placed within a land-grant university system.
- 1967: Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, as a state agency administered by The Texas A&M University System.