Happy birthday to OSU’s Extension Service — you don’t look a day over 99.

Elsie Hill on a tractor, 1944

Elsie Hill on a tractor, 1944


We can thank county extension agents for marvelous reports detailing the activities in the 36 counties in Oregon, but also for the pictures they took. These images record the communities (rural and urban), the varied economies, and the life throughout the last one hundred years. So this summer, instead of travelling the globe via Flickr Commons contributions, we’re travelling the state via Extension Services! Since there are 36 counties and only 12 weeks, we’ve decided to release a new set from a region in the state each week. The first starts close to home with Linn & Benton counties.

One hundred years and one mission

The OSU Extension Service has a history that would make any program feel proud.

“At the close of the 19th century, most Oregonians were newcomers living on newly established farms. They approached their work much the same way their fathers and grandfathers had, clinging to methods that had worked well enough back in Minnesota or Germany. It was the mission of Oregon’s land-grant college to research practical solutions to real problems, and OAC faculty spent part of their time traveling by horseback or train to organize farmers’ institutes and deliver lectures to far-flung communities. Their topics aimed to improve rural life, from food safety and family nutrition to animal husbandry and pest management. Demonstrations might draw hundreds of people.

Oregonians have always loved learning, and the demand grew. OAC faculty wrote educational pamphlets and columns for the state’s three largest newspapers. They gave correspondence courses in accounting, rural law, and farm economics; they volunteered as judges at county and State Fairs; and they worked with public schools to teach boys’ and girls’ Industrial Clubs, the forerunners of Extension 4-H clubs in Oregon. Eventually, faculty were working off campus so much that OAC President W.J. Kerr established a recognized division within the college dedicated solely to the educational service of communities beyond campus. On July 24, 1911, the Board of Regents established the Extension Service at Oregon Agricultural College.”

You can learn even more on the Our History page of the OSU Extension Services.

Extension Service milk machine exhibit, circa 1955

Extension Service milk machine exhibit, circa 1955

What about the nitty gritty of historical facts?

R.D. Hetzel, professor of political science, was named as the first director of the Extension Service. In September of 1912, the first county extension agents began their work in Marion and Wallowa Counties. The following year legislation passed that matched state funds to county appropriations for funding extension work.

In May of 1914, nearly three years after Oregon had established its Extension Service, President Woodrow Wilson signed the federal Smith-Lever law. This law provided federal money for the establishment of extension services in all states to develop off-campus programs, primarily for work in agriculture and home economics. The first home economics extension agents were hired in August 1917 to do wartime emergency work, with several of the agents retained by counties after World War I. By 1937, all counties had at least one county extension agent.

During the Extension Service’s first forty years, it concentrated on three traditional programmatic areas — agriculture, home economics, and 4-H, but in the years following WWII, other program areas were added — forestry, the Marine Advisory Program, Community Resource Development, and the Energy Extension Service.

We have many collections that document the work done by Extension Services. Start at the Extension Service Records (RG 111). If you want to find more collections, scroll to the Related Materials section and go wild.

Lebanon newswriters' group formed while taking the OAC Farm, Home and Community Extension Newswriting Course, 1930

Lebanon newswriters' group formed while taking the OAC Farm, Home and Community Extension Newswriting Course, 1930

For an in-depth history of Oregon’s Extension Service’s first fifty years, see Frank L. Ballard’s The Oregon State University Federal Cooperative Extension Service, 1911-1961. You can also search OSU’s institutional repository, ScholarsArchive for the phrase “extension service” and find marvelous reports and publications such as “Bulletin No. 1 : History and Organization,” “Continuation of experiments in pig feeding,” “Thousand headed kale,” and “School and home gardening for elementary schools in Oregon” – and those were all published before 1920!

Want to know more about the history of the U.S. agricultural extension? Visit the USDA site.

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