What's your story

History of Cooperative Extension

National Cooperative Extension History

Cooperative Extension derives its name from a combination of federal, state and county funds structured to ensure that all people have access to their state university. A New York native, Dr. Seaman A. Knapp, born in 1833, is considered the founder of the Extension Service. He brought us the idea of teaching by demonstration and established the first demonstration farm in Texas.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Land Grant (Morrill) Act into law in 1862 marking a “democratic” revolution in American higher education. The intent was to place control of higher education in the hands of the people rather than elites or religious denominations. The Land Grant Act provided funds for each state to establish one college with a heavy emphasis on the agriculture of the time, but also providing for future pursuits and professions. The land grant mission focuses on three areas: teaching, research and extension. All 50 states and the district of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Guam, have at least one land grant university with this three-part mission. Cornell University was chartered and designated as New York State’s land grant institution in 1865.

The Hatch Act, drafted by Dr. Knapp and passed in 1887, provided federal support for research on experimental farms. This recognized agricultural research as a function of the land grant university. Today each state conducts research on issues related to their state. Cornell University’s Agricultural Experiment Station is located in Geneva and concentrates on horticulture food crops (grapes, wine, etc.). Other state research includes: Georgia – turf grass, North Carolina – tobacco, Iowa – pork, Wisconsin – Grains and Cheese, Kentucky – horses, Nevada – earth science and mining.

In 1894 Cornell received its first recurring support from New York for extension work in horticulture and “nature study.” In 1900 Martha Van Rensselaer began a program of extension work with farm women – the birth of home economics at Cornell.

In 1914 The Smith Lever Act established the national cooperative extension system. It funded county agents and college specialists in work with farmers through cooperation of agricultural colleges and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For the next three decades, Cornell University became the recognized leader in the nation for the excellence and effectiveness of its work.

Senator Morrill’s fundamental idea in the middle of the 19th century was to link the expertise of the university with the resolution of day-to-day problems of the people. Today all 57 counties of New York State and New York City have extension offices. Cooperative Extension provided a link between science and public life that brings state-of-the-art research to the people where they live and where their communities must address current issues.

Programs have evolved over the years and reflect changes in values, ethics, community norms, family structures, mobility and economy. The world is changing fast, and now each decision we make has to be based on a solid foundation – a foundation of facts, research and up-to-date expertise. Cornell Cooperative Extension is New York State’s connection to the latest in research and techniques.

We’ve been in the education/information business for nearly a century. We are your front door to Cornell University, which can provide the research, information and expertise to help you solve problems and improve your quality of life. The entire state is our campus, and all New York State residents are our students. Our numerous county offices put Cooperative Extension resources within easy reach of all of New York’s 57 counties. Our publications are not textbooks, but booklets, information sheets, and brochures intended for everyday use and application, written by experts and based on the latest findings. We offer information you can trust.

Last updated December 5, 2022