Texas A&M University (originally named the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas) was the state’s first public institution of higher education. It was organized by the state legislature in 1871 under the provisions of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862. The first students were enrolled in 1876. The Morrill Act donated public lands to the states and territories to provide colleges for teaching agriculture, “the mechanic arts,” and military tactics, as well as science and classical studies, to the nation’s working-class citizens.
Additionally, in 1876, the “Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas for Colored Youths” was established in Prairie View, Texas. It was expanded as a land-grant college as part of the 1890 Morrill Act.
The land-grant mission was expanded beyond teaching to research with the approval of the Hatch Act in 1887, providing federal support for the establishment of agricultural experiment stations and resources to solve critical problems confronting agriculture — problems such as Texas tick fever, which decimated cattle herds and thwarted domestic and international marketing, causing hard times throughout the state.
In 1903, Dr. Seaman A. Knapp, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who had helped to draft the Hatch Act, established community demonstration plots on the Walter C. Porter farm near Terrell, Texas, to implement new USDA recommendations for selecting, fertilizing, and cultivating crops. The demonstration was a great success, and the following year Dr. Knapp appointed 33 special agents to help Texas communities solve their special agricultural needs. This model defined a path for cooperative extension work nationwide.
By 1911, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas had helped scientific agriculture expand throughout the state. The department of agriculture and science was designated the School of Agriculture, later to become the College of Agriculture and, in 1989, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Texas A&M’s programs in teaching, research, extension, and service reached people in towns and cities as well as on farms and ranches.
Congress approved the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, providing for the establishment of the state-based agricultural extension services and further expanding the land-grant mission. In 1915, the Texas legislature organized the Texas Agricultural Extension Service (now the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service), which would bring scientific information from the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (now Texas A&M AgriLife Research) to every farm and community. County agents, home demonstration agents, specialists, and volunteers provided this outreach.