Civil War Blog

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Beginnings of Modern Farm Management: USDA 150th Anniversary

Posted By on May 7, 2012

President Lincoln created  the U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 15, 1862, referring to it several times as the “people’s department.” To understand that comment, we have to remember that about  25% of the U.S. population lived on, worked on or owned farms in the 1860s (compared with less than 1% today). Lincoln wanted to see the agricultural industry become modernized in the same way that manufacturing was changing. The first head of the department was named Isaac Newton. Newton outlined the following objectives for the department:

  1. Collecting, arranging, and publishing statistical and other useful agricultural information;
  2. Introducing valuable plants and animals;
  3. Answering inquiries of farmers regarding agriculture;
  4. Testing agricultural implements;
  5. Conducting chemical analyses of soils, grains, fruits, plants, vegetables, and manures;
  6. Establishing a professorship of botany and entomology;
  7. Establishing an agricultural library and museum.
This became a model for government departments and agencies and had a profound impact on the way government controlled and regulated not only farming, but over the next century and a half, virtually every other industry. These original seven goals have expanded to include a strongly regulatory role, with the USDA overseeing the nation’s forests, school lunch programs, the safety of our food supply, To see how this developed within the department of Agriculture, and the balancing of the economic aspects of the agricultural sector. To see more about how the USDA developed as a governmental agency, watch this promotional video created by the USDA to celebrate its 150th anniversary:

USDA 150 website: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=USDA150

Background on Lincoln’s Agricultural Legacy: http://www.nal.usda.gov/lincolns-agricultural-legacy

Text of a famous speech on Agriculture Lincoln made in Milwaukee in 1859 which outlined many of the ideas used in developing the department: http://www.nal.usda.gov/lincolns-milwaukee-speech


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