1914 Smith-Lever Act flung ag improvement door wide open


One-hundred years ago, America was still three years away from entering The Great War; Ty Cobb was hitting .368 and Charlie Chaplin’s first movie, “Making a Living,” was released.

At the time, Arkansas was home to about 1.5 million people, most of them involved in farming.

“Like most of the United States, agriculture was a part of everyday life, whether it was subsistence farming or farming to sell commodities to a growing nation,” said Tony Windham, associate vice president-extension for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

The year 1914 was an important year for agriculture in the United States. That year, the Smith-Lever Act went into effect, creating an educational force that would change agriculture forever. The idea behind extension was simple. Agents would collect the latest research on farming and household issues and teach these innovations to their neighbors.

“Having the ability to transfer research discoveries to the people who could use them was a key moment in our history,” he said. “It provided the ability to raise the level of farm production from near subsistence to a level where it could support a nation that was growing in population, economy and technology.”

The result was a steady rise in the standard of living across the state.

Although Arkansas had been assigned its first extension agent nine years earlier, Smith-Lever would lead to bigger things for Arkansas. State government became involved. The University of Arkansas joined the effort and the Cooperative Extension Service as we know it was born.

Extension then, and now:

• In 1914, extension agents promoted the mechanization of farms, introduced pest control and fertilization techniques and encouraged crop diversification and farm cooperatives. Today, extension agents and specialists promote resource conservation, precision agricultural techniques and development of phone- and tablet-based tools for farming.

• In the decades following 1914, home demonstration agents taught techniques for safe food preservation, clothing construction, mattress-making and led efforts for childhood immunizations. Today, family and consumer science faculty teach money management, nutrition and family relations skills.

• Extension also helped build communities, selling war bonds and leading the effort for rural electrification. Today, our community and economic development faculty not only helps businesses get their start but also grow. They give communities the tools to reawaken dormant economies and help voters make the best possible decisions about their futures. Today, with offices in all 75 counties, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service works to help improve the quality of life for all Arkansans.

To learn more, visit www.uaex.edu or contact the Jefferson County Extension Office at 870-534-1033.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.