The Agricultural Experiment Station was established in College Park, Maryland in 1888 as a combined state agency, stockholder institution, and Maryland Agricultural College department. The 1887 Hatch Act provided $15,000 per year for an experiment station at all land grant institutions, and the college contributed the college farm and the Rossborough Inn.
The purpose of experiment stations was to use the resources of science to improve the practice and profitability of agriculture, and with the aid of the government, become a necessary branch of the agriculture business. Its immediate function was to conduct investigations into the agricultural problems that most concerned farmers and to publish and disseminate widely the results of its research.
Administratively, the Agricultural Experiment Station was under the control of the Maryland Agricultural College's Board of Trustees from 1888 to 1892, during which time the college president also served as the director of the experiment station. After 1892, the two positions became distinct entities, except for Director Patterson's tenure as college president from 1913 to 1917.
The agricultural improvement movement of the late ninetenth century and its particular concern with soil fertility and crop yield found expression in Maryland's first agricultural inspection bill passed in 1886. This act gave the Agricultural Experiment Station authority to inspect all fertilizer sold in the state, under the direction of the college president. The fertilizer bill was the first of many state-mandated inspection programs which followed: livestock (1888), nurseries and trees (1896), feeds (1900), tobacco (1906), seeds (1912), honey bees (1916), and fruit (1916). This body of inspection legislation set priorities for the station and granted it state-wide authority in the early years of its development.
The Farmer's Institute was created by state legislation in 1896 to popularize the research of the experiment station and share its results with the farms. The Maryland Agricultural College offered ten-week agriculture courses for farmers through the institute. The Cooperative Extension Service, funded by the 1914 Smith-Lever Act, replaced the Farmer's Institute. Extension agents visited farmers in their homes and fields demonstrating the latest innovations in agriculture from the experiment station.
H.J. Patterson was named Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1898. His first priority was to lobby the legislature for funds for inspections and buildings which federal funds excluded. In 1902 the state began appropriating funds for the experiment station, and in 1906, the federal Adams Act increased funding for experiment stations by $15,000 per year.
In 1908, the Maryland Agricultural College Board of Trustees became the State Board of Agriculture. After Director Patterson persuaded college stockholders to give their shares to the state, the college was newly chartered as the Maryland State College. In 1920, the University of Maryland was formed by the combination of the professional schools in Baltimore and Maryland State College. By 1950, the Agricultural Experiment Station was a department of the College Park campus' College of Agriculture along with its academic departments, the Cooperative Extension Service, and Maryland State Board of Agriculture assigned programs. In 1974, the UMCP Division of Agriculture and Life Sciences was formed which included the College of Agriculture.
Although the thrust of the move from college to university undercut the central position of the Agricultural Experiment Station in the university, it continued to be closely connected to the University Central Administration through the Vice-President for Agricultural Affairs, and later also Legislative Affairs, who coordinated the Agricultural Experiment Station, the Cooperative Extension Service, the College of Agriculture and the State Board of Agriculture. The complex funding of the station from federal, state, university and private sources necessitated the university-level coordination.
Physically, the experiment stations expanded in 1914 with the acquisition of the Ridgely sub-station on the Eastern Shore. By 1975, the Agricultural Experiment Station also maintained field stations in Upper Marlboro, Fairland, Ellicott City, Hancock, Sykesville, Jessup, Wye, and Salisbury.
Concentrating on practical research, Maryland won recognition for developing new varieties of tobacco and strawberries, analyzing soil, and pioneering in the control of hog cholera and San Jose Scale in fruit trees in its early years. The research results were disseminated to farmers through its publications program. In the 1920s the Agricultural Experiment Station extended its research beyond the farm to retail markets where farm products were sold. Studies of prices, markets, market demand, and consumer preferences sought to help farmers compete in the sophisticated commercial marketplace. Research agreements with private and governmental concerns expanded in the 1960s as food technology and "feeding the world" became national issues.
The field stations and university research facilities in the College Park academic departments of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Agricultural Engineering, Agronomy, Animal Science, Botany, Dairy Science, Entomology, Horticulture, Poultry Science, and Veterinary Science constituted the scope of Agricultural Experiment Station activities from the 1950s on. Faculty involved in agricultural research were funded jointly by the Agricultural Experiment Station and the University; thus, the department reports of the Agricultural Experiment Station are research projects performed by university faculty with joint university and experiment station appointments. The Agricultural Experiment Station, however, has its own administrative, technical, and clerical staff.
In conjunction with UMCP academic departments, the Agricultural Experiment Station continues its long tradition of agricultural research and communication of the results to the citizens of Maryland and the country. Maryland Governor Mandel recognized the Agricultural Experiment Station in a Governor's Proclamation designating November 6, 1975, as Agricultural Experiment Station Day in Maryland in conjunction with the national centennial of the founding of the first agricultural experiment station in the United States.
For additional information on the history of the Agricultural Experiment Station, see Series I Subseries 3 folder: "History, Agricultural Experiment Station" and A History of the University of Maryland by George H. Callcott (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1966.)
Directors of the Agricultural Experiment Station
- 1888-1892 Major H. W. Alvord
- 1892-1898 Robert H. Miller
- 1898-1937 H. J. Patterson
- 1937-1938 J. E. Metzger, Acting Director
- 1938-1939 J. E. Metzger
- 1939-1940 T. B. Symons
- 1940-1943 R. B. Corbett
- 1943-1944 W. B. Kemp, Acting Director
- 1944-1951 W. B. Kemp
- 1951-1972 I. C. Haut
- 1973-1975 R. L. Green, Acting Director
- 1976-1987 W. Lamar Harris
- 1988- Craig Oliver, Acting Director