Campus and Community


As we celebrate the 1862 founding of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Land-grant University system, we look back on the many challenges and accomplishments of these institutions. At the same time, we look forward to the bright promise that the land-grant tradition of learning, research, and community engagement holds for the future.

While traveling backward or forward along this timeline, pause to think about the ways in which the history of the universities and the USDA may have touched your own life and the lives of your family and community.

Click here to find a lesson plan on the timeline

TIMELINE Click to enlarge and view caption
2000s By the end of the twenty-first centurys first decade, enrollment at American colleges and universities has never been higher. By 2009, there are 20.4 million students in degree-granting institutions, an increase of 33 percent from the 15.3 million students enrolled in 2000. Higher education now seems accessible to any high-school graduate in the United States.
1990s The explosive growth of the Internet dominates the 1990s. Shortly after the first Web browser is introduced in 1990, there are an estimated 1.8 million Internet users in the United States. By 2000, that number has increased to 135 million. The impact of the Internet on education is incalculable.
1980s The 1983 report A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform identifies disturbing inadequacies in American secondary schools and undergraduate colleges. Hundreds of task forces convene to suggest reforms. Land-grant universities use this opportunity to engage their communities more directlymarshalling their knowledge and expertise to help solve problems facing the public that they serve.
1970s The cultural ferment and volatility of the 1960s continue into the 1970s, especially during the first half of the decade. Of particular concern to students on college campuses are issues of public health, environmental protection, and ecological awareness.
1960s The cultural ferment that has become synonymous with the decade of the 1960s is especially visible on the campuses of public and land-grant universities. Protests and demonstrations for civil rights, free speech, and peace are widespread.
1950s From 1945 to 1991, the Cold War escalates tensions between the United States and the Soviet Unionand their respective allies. However, the Cold War greatly benefits public and land-grant universities through the U.S. governments generous funding of programs and research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematicshoping to gain a competitive edge in the race for world power.
1940s A common expression is Dont you know theres a war on?used whenever someone complains about rationing sugar, coffee, gasoline, and more during World War II. From 1941 to 1945, public and land-grant universities are very aware theres a war on. Students and staff members join the armed services, campuses convert into military training centers, and flowerbeds become victory gardens.
1930s The economic hardships of the Great Depression profoundly affect public and land-grant universities. Fewer students enroll, faculty and staff members receive less pay, and new college graduates often are unemployed. One bright spot that helps ease the lean times: thanks to the USDA Cooperative Extension Service, more Americans have learned how to preserve fruits and vegetables.
1920s Two constitutional amendments profoundly affect students at land-grant universities. The Eighteenth Amendment (ratified in January 1919, but not taking effect until January 1920) prohibits the production, sale, and distribution of alcoholic beverages. The Nineteenth Amendment (ratified in August 1920 and taking effect immediately) gives women the right to vote.
1910s The USDA and the land-grant universities play key roles during the years of World War I (19141918) by helping the United States expand its agricultural and industrial output to sustain other nations preoccupied with the military conflict, and by developing scientific and technological know-how in support of the American war effort.
1900s After President William McKinley is assassinated in 1901, Theodore Rooseveltonly forty-two years old and the youngest man ever to become presidenttakes office. In the name of progressivism, Roosevelts administration promotes agriculture, education, professionalism, and scienceall of which further the development of land-grant universities and the USDA.
1890s Following the end of Reconstruction in 1877, race relations continue to deteriorate. During this decade, the lynching of African Americans reaches its peak and the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) affirms the legality of separate but equal segregation. The land-grant university system expands to include many Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
1880s The land-grant universities and the USDA respond to increasing industrialization in the United States by adding more academic offerings in science, engineering, and technology. Similarly, as escalating immigration makes the United States more diverse, many of the land-grant universities actively expand their educational opportunities to women and minorities.
1870s The 1883 faculty and staff of Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University), included (left to right) E. E. Grimm, professor of agriculture; Ida Callahan, assistant in preparations; B. L. Arnold, president; B. J. Hawthorn, professor of languages, Joseph Emery, professor of math and natural sciences; and W. W. Briston. Photo courtesy of OSU Archives
1860s In the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln signs into law the Morrill Act, establishing land-grant universities. As existing and newly founded universities join the system, greater opportunities open for eager students. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also established, beginning formal programs of national agricultural research.