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C.I. Lewis talking from the Oregon Agricultural College Farming Demonstration Train. Early 1900s. (Courtesy of OSU Archives, HC1547_Lewis.)
One hundred years and one mission
Half the town is crowded around the railway station, each person jostling for a good spot to see the train when it arrives. But the train they are expecting is not delivering the usual freight of goods and people. It's a demonstration train, and it's delivering education.
The steam engine chugs to a stop, the doors of a freight car open, and there inside is a fully equipped laboratory, to demonstrate the latest advances of modern farm industry and home life.
By 1911, when railroads were just starting to reach communities beyond the Willamette Valley, faculty at Oregon Agricultural College (OAC) saw their chance to reach people far from the Corvallis campus. Professors used demonstration trains to deliver useful information that would improve lives and livelihoods across Oregon. From the beginning, OAC faculty brought research-based knowledge to communities far from campus, a mission and a service that became known as Extension.
During the early 20th century, OAC Extension was becoming part of the fabric of rural Oregon. Generations of Oregon kids would grow up in 4-H, while their mothers led home study groups and their fathers tuned in to Extension's radio farm reports. As people moved from farming communities to cities and suburban neighborhoods, Extension was there with programs for civic engagement and leadership. Today, Oregon State University Extension 4-H offers projects in technology training and youth leadership. Thousands of trained OSU Extension volunteers give time to their communities to create public gardens, advise woodland managers, and clean up neighborhood streams. OSU Extension faculty across the state offer research-based expertise in health and nutrition, children and families, forestry, agriculture, marine science, and community development.
The story of OSU Extension mirrors the story of Oregon. From the beginning, Extension's focus was more than agriculture. It was service to the whole family, in the whole community, across the whole state.
How did it begin?
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.
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