How It All Started:
In 1869, the Indiana legislature accepted the offer of John Purdue of 100 acres of land and $150,000 if the state would establish the Indiana land grant university in Tippecanoe County and name it Purdue University. Such universities following the dictates of the federal Morrill Act of 1862 were to give special attention to the education of the agricultural and industrial classes. This special orientation to agriculture was not difficult for Indiana in the last half of the 1800's. The number of Indiana farms had been increasing rapidly as the portion of the state in forests and unimproved land declined. By 1880 there were 194,013 farms and these farms included about 90% of the state's acres. The day of unclaimed land for farm settlement was drawing to a close. Times for farming had been tough, however, and since the Civil War farm prices had declined sharply. The average farm in the 1880's had 105 acres: 59 acres in crops, 13 acres in orchards and pasture and the remainder in virgin woodlands. Of the cultivated land, 32% was in "Indian corn;" 23% in wheat; 16% in hay and oats and the remainder in barley, rye, potatoes and truck crops. The average farm was highly diversified with livestock. In spite of this strong agricultural orientation of the Hoosier scene, the early years of agriculture at Purdue were turbulent and floundering. The Purdue catalog of 1874-75 announced a full schedule of classes for the Bachelor's degree in Agriculture. There were no takers!
In 1878 it was reported that a few acres would be devoted to agricultural experiments. In 1879, Charles Ingersoll arrived to become the first professor of agriculture. In 1882 Ingersoll left and another new professor of agriculture, Professor W. C. Latta, started to teach. Hoosier farmers in general did not believe that higher education had much to offer their sons in preparation for a future career in farming and agriculture. They did not flock to the new university! In 1882 the first Bachelor's degree following an agricultural curriculum was granted. (There is disagreement in early records as to whether there were 1 or 3 such graduates.) By 1895, records indicate that a staggering total of 25 (or 28) individuals received Bachelor's degrees in Agriculture. In 1887, the winter short course program for rural young people desiring something less than a full college degree was initiated. This was to develop into a very popular educational activity and to become a very important source of Ag Alumni and Purdue support. In 1909, over 1,000 were enrolled in short courses of various lengths and subjects.