Father Figures (9/30/2022)

A few weeks ago I received a text message from my son wishing me a Happy Father’s Day. My first reaction was “Huh?” Then I realized Micah, who is working on a movie in Australia, was following the Australian calendar. In Australia, Father’s Day is celebrated in September. Since September  is the month for recognizing Father’s in Australia, we will join in the celebration of Fathers.

Two weeks ago, in the Friday Footnote,  we recognized Oliver Hudson Kelley as the Father of the Grange since he originated the idea, but he did have help from others in fleshing out the organization. There are numerous other “Father Figures” in the world of agriculture. In this Friday Footnote Dr. Connors from the University of Idaho will examine some of the Father Figures in Agriculture. Here is Dr. Connors.


Over the summer I was watching the Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball.  In the documentary they talked about how baseball was “invented” by Abner Doubleday in 1839 in a rural Cooperstown, New York cow pasture. Unfortunately, this story is completely false.  According to U-S-History.com, “Doubleday has been long taken for granted as the “Father of Baseball,” but the truth of the matter is that there probably is not just one “Father.” Others claim that Henry Chadwich first codified the rules of baseball in 1845 and should be considered the “Father of Baseball.”

This is also true for many other aspects of history, including the history of agricultural education.  Let’s delve into some of the “Father Figures” of agriculture.

Seaman Knapp – Father of Extension Demonstration Farms

Most people agree that Seaman Knapp played a major role in the use of demonstration farms to promote improved agricultural practices in the southern U.S.  Westwood wrote “Seaman A. Knapp is recognized as the father of the County Demonstration Agent System and is known for his innovative way of helping people help themselves.”

His work with educating farmers how to protect their cotton crop from boll weevil infestation helped to create extension education programs across the country. Schwieder (1993) wrote that “Knapp established a demonstration farm in 1903, which led to the appointment of the nation’s first county agent in Smith County, Texas, in 1906.

Meanwhile, other states and counties were undertaking activities that were somewhat similar in result.” Rasmussen (1989) wrote that Epsilon Sigma Phi, the honor society of the Cooperative Extension System, commemorated the founding of Extension through the Wilson and Knapp Memorial Arches in Washington, D.C., honoring the services of James Wilson, Secretary of Agriculture 1897-1913, and Seaman A. Knapp, key figure in the organization of the Cooperative Extension System.”

Another candidate for “father of extension” could be Perry G. Holden. Rasmussen wrote, “The hiring of Iowa’s first two county agents did not take place without significant groundwork being laid by earlier Extension personnel. Foremost among these was Perry G. Holden, who came to Iowa State College in 1902. Holden might well be called the father of Iowa Extension.” Where many land grant universities have Morrill Halls or buildings named after Seaman Knapp, Michigan State University has Holden Hall and Bailey Hall (where this author lived in 1980) which are dormitories named after Perry Holden and Liberty Hyde Bailey.

Figure 2. Father Figures in Extension

 A. B. Graham – Father of 4-H

B. Graham from Springfield, Ohio, is generally credited as the “Father of 4-H.”  Graham was a school teacher and administrator who started boys and girls agricultural clubs within the Champaign County, Ohio school system.

However, several other agricultural and educational professionals were doing similar activities in other states in the first decades of the 1900s.  The video 4-H History lists 11 individuals as the “Founders of 4-H.” These individuals included:

  • Liberty Hyde Bailey – New York                  (1898)
  • Jessie Field Schambaugh – Iowa                 (1901)
  • A. B. Graham – Ohio                                     (1903)
  • Seaman Knapp – USDA                                 (1903)
  • Cap E. Miller – Iowa                                      (1904)
  • T. A. Erickson – Minnesota                           (1904)
  • Will B. Otwell – Illinois                                  (1904)
  • Thomas M. Campbell – Alabama                (1906)
  • Oscar H. Benson – Iowa                               (1907)
  • Ella Agnew – Virginia                                    (1910)
  • Marie Cromer – South Carolina                  (1910)

An Ohio Historical Marker credits A. B. Graham with creating youth agricultural clubs which eventually became 4-H Clubs.  Ironically, there is an FFA chapter named for Graham in Ohio.  The A. B. Graham Ohio Hi-Point FFA chapter is located at the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center in St. Paris, Champaign County, Ohio.

Figure 3. A. B. Graham. Father of 4-H

Alfred C. True and Dick Crosby – Co-Fathers of Agricultural Education

In previous Friday Footnotes we recognized A.C. True and Dick Crosby for their work in establishing Agricultural Education in our public schools [Alfred C. True (9/6/2019) and Did the Smith-Hughes Act REALLY Start the Teaching of Agricultural Education? (8/30/2019)]. We will mention True and Crosby here and refer you to the two Footnotes for more detail.

In 1893 Alfred C. True became Director of the USDA Office of Experiment Stations. True served in this position until his retirement in 1923. During his service in the Office of Experiment Stations, True was heavily involved in promoting the establishment of agricultural education programs in secondary schools in America.  From 1893 until the passage of the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act in 1917, True conducted research and wrote numerous reports on the importance of secondary agricultural education. True had been a high school principal at one time and saw the need for agricultural education.

In 1901, Dick Crosby, was added to the staff of the Office of Experiment Stations as a special assistant to  Director True in work related to agricultural education. With the addition of Crosby to the staff and the awakening demands for a more relevant education from progressives, agricultural education in the public schools started to become a reality.

A division of agricultural education was established in the Office of Experiment Stations in 1906. Dick Crosby was put in charge of the work. The division was very active in promoting and supporting agricultural education through consultations, research, curriculum guides, and instructional materials. In Two Hundred Years of Agricultural Education in Georgia, Wheeler reported that Dick Crosby of the Office of Experiment stations was “largely responsible for the curriculum development” in the eleven congressional district agricultural schools established in 1907 in Georgia.

True was a vocal and untiring advocate for agricultural education and Crosby did much of the operational tasks involved in getting agricultural education started.  They were both involved in establishing agricultural education. According to a report from the Commissioner of Education for 1914-1915, two years before the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, agriculture was taught in 4,390 secondary schools to 85,573 secondary students. This was largely due to the efforts of True and Crosby. But it should be realized others such as Rufus Stimson were also involved in the early efforts to start agricultural education. However, True and Crosby had a national influence.

Figure 4 – Early Agricultural Education Pioneers

Liberty Hyde Bailey – Father of Horticulture

Liberty Hyde Bailey was a Professor of Horticulture and Landscape Gardening at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State) from 1885 to 1888.  In 1888 he left MAC to become Professor of General and Experimental Horticulture at Cornell University; eventually rising to the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Seeley (1990) wrote that, “He has been called ‘Father of American Horticulture,’ and ‘Dean of Horticulture’ throughout the world.”

Bailey was a prolific author who wrote numerous books and papers on agriculture, horticulture, and agricultural education.  One of his most popular books on agricultural and land philosophy is The Holy Earth. It was originally published in 1915 and is still in print today.

Michigan State University still honors Bailey’s role as the Father of American Horticulture with a statue in the MSU Horticultural Gardens on the MSU campus in East Lansing.  In Dr. Moore’s Friday Footnote on FFA chapter names (Aug. 27, 2021), he shared that there was even a Liberty H. Bailey FFA chapter at Seaford High School in Delaware back in the 1930s.

Figure 5. Liberty Hyde Bailey

Hugh Bennett – Father of Soil Conservation

Another father figure that most people would not know is Hugh Bennett. Any FFA member who ever participated in Soil Judging should know about Hugh Bennett.

Bennet was born in Anson County, NC and graduated with a degree in chemistry and geology from the University of North Carolina in 1903.  He went to work for the Bureau of Soils in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  He quickly rose to prominence by writing about the problems of soil erosion in the 1920s. In 1928 he co-authored a paper titled “Soil Erosion: A National Menance.” After the passage of the Soil Conservation Act in 1935, Bennett served as the first director of the new Soil Conservation Service until his retirement in 1951.

Bennett was an evangelist in his promotion of soil conservation during the environmental disaster of the dust bowl in the 1930s.  When Bennett retired in 1951, the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer wrote that, “Bennett might come to be ‘recognized as the most important North Carolinian of this generation’.”

Figure 6. Hugh Bennett

Gifford Pinchot – Father of Forestry

Another father figure related to agriculture is Gifford Pinchot.  FFA Forestry CDE teams should study the life of Gifford Pinchot, considered the Father of Forestry in America.

Pinchot studied forestry in America and Germany.  He played a major role in the creation of the Cradle of Forestry when he served as forester for the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, NC. Later he was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1905 and served as the first Chief from 1905 to 1910. He is famous for stating that the use of the natural resources should be for the “greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.”

Anyone interested in forestry or the conservation movement in the United States should read about Gifford Pinchot, the Father of American Forestry.

Figure 7. Gifford Pinchot


This footnote has looked at seven gentlemen who are considered “Father Figures” within the field of agriculture. These noted agricultural leaders included:

  • Seaman Knapp                                  Father of Extension
  • A. B. Graham                                     Father of 4-H
  • A. C. True & Dick Crosby                 Fathers of Agricultural Education
  • Liberty Hyde Bailey                          Father of American Horticulture
  • Hugh Bennett                                    Father of Soil Conservation
  • Gifford Pinchot                                 Father of Forestry

However, while these men are given credit for creating their respected fields, they were by no means the only individuals working in these areas. There were others who worked closely with them to develop 4-H, extension, horticulture, soil conservation, and forestry.  In some instances, there were women, working alongside men, who contributed to the development of these disciplines.  President Harry S. Truman famously stated that “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”  While these Father Figures may get the credit for the leading roles they played, we should recognize the passionate work of dozens of others who helped develop these fields of agriculture.

In next week’s Footnote we will look at the Father Figures of the Future Farmers of America (FFA)

Teaching Activities

  • Divide your students into groups and have them research these seven “Father Figures” in agriculture. Have them develop posters or presentations about their work in promoting these areas of agriculture.
  • Identify agricultural leaders in your community or state who could be considered “Father” or “Mothers” of specific areas of agriculture.
  • Discuss how these individuals studied and worked to become leaders in their area of agriculture. How could you as agricultural education students and FFA members develop your passion into a career as a leader in the agricultural industry.


Bailey, J. C. (1945). Seaman A. Knapp: Schoolmaster of American Agriculture. New York: Columbia University.

National 4-H Council (2002). 4-H History. [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-37FYH8gMu4&t=106s

National Park Service (n.d.). Gifford Pinchot: The father of forestryhttp://www.nps.gov/articles/gifford-pinchot.htm

U.S. Department of Agriculture (n.d.). Hugh Hammond Bennett: “Father of soil conservation.” https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/about/history/?cid=stelprdb1044395

U.S. Department of Agriculture (2017). Hugh Hammond Bennett: The story of America’s private land conservation movement. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G78ihulTx1k&t=23s

U-S-History.com (n.d.). Abner Doubleday – “Father of Baseball.” https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h2063.html

Westwood, G. R. (1973). Seaman A. Knapp: Won’t you please come home? Journal of Extension, 11(3), p. 35-41. https://archives.joe.org/joe/1973fall/1973-3-a4.pdf

Seeley, J. G. (1990, October). Liberty Hyde Bailey – Father of American Horticulture. Hort Science, 25(10), 1204-1210. https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/view/journals/hortsci/25/10/article-p1204.xml