Rutgers, the land-grant university of New Jersey

Cementing its role in research and outreach as the state's agricultural experiment station

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey was founded as Queen's College in 1766 by the Dutch Reformed Church to educate future leaders of the church, who at the time had to return to the Netherlands for seminary training and ordination. In 1825, the school was renamed Rutgers College in honor of trustee and Revolutionary War veteran Colonel Henry Rutgers.

Congress passed the Morrill Act in 1862, which laid the foundation for comprehensive public institutions of higher education in the U.S. by establishing land-grant universities to teach "agriculture and the mechanic arts." Princeton, Rutgers, and the State Normal School in Trenton competed for the designation of land-grant college of New Jersey. This paved the way for Rutgers College Professors George H. Cook and David Murray to successfully lobby the New Jersey Legislature for Rutgers to become New Jersey's land-grant college, leading to the establishment of the Rutgers Scientific School in 1864. A 100-acre farm on the outskirts of New Brunswick was purchased from the estate of James Neilson to serve as the school's experimental farm. That land is now the heart of the George H. Cook campus of the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

George H. Cook and David Murray

Circa 1920: Farming demonstration on campus, near Waller Hall and greenhouses.

Educating the public about fertilizers to comply with 21st century regulations

Circa 1920, horses being examined

The Rutgers Equine Science Center treadmill

In 1955, Dr. Spencer H. Davis, Jr. (right), Rutgers plant pathologist, checks for disease in lettuce from cold frame held by Albert Foerter (left), East Brunswick market garden farmer. Milton H. Cowan, Middlesex County agricultural agent, is the middle man in this operation just as the other county agents are when unusual problems arise in their areas.

Jenny Carleo, agricultural agent, left, believes that women are crucial to the future of farming in New Jersey. She is shown with Meredith Melendez, senior program coordinator, doing a farm survey in Sussex County.

Clarence Sakamoto (left), research assistant in meteorology, explains to a group of weathermen how he uses the pyrheliograph, which measures solar radiation, in his study of microclimate at the Marlboro Experiment Station in 1961.

Teresa Sikorski, a member of the WeatherWatcher Living-learning community on the George H. Cook campus prepares for a broadcast. The community offers special benefits to students who want to explore a unique opportunity to get hands-on experience in broadcast communications and learn the basics of broadcast meteorology.

Empowering Citizens with Practical Research

The Morrill Act laid the foundation for further legislation enabling land-grant universities to conduct research to be disseminated to the public via agricultural experiment stations and cooperative extension services. The Hatch Act of 1887 amended the Morrill Act and established state agricultural experiment stations at land-grant universities "to support agricultural research as well as promote the efficient production, marketing, distribution, and utilization of products of the farm as essential to the health and welfare of our peoples and to promote a sound and prosperous agriculture and rural life as indispensable to the maintenance of maximum employment and national prosperity and security." The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES), as did experiment stations across the U.S., grew out of the Hatch Act.

The Smith-Lever Act in 1914 established the cooperative extension services that were, with rare exceptions, connected to state land-grant institutions and were designed to provide research-based knowledge to improve the lives of citizens. Cooperative extension faculty at the Rutgers Scientific School, by then renamed the Rutgers College of Agriculture, were located in each county in New Jersey to provide expertise that met public needs at the local level.

Reflecting the core of the Smith-Lever Act and the historical partnership between agricultural colleges and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperative extension at the state land-grant universities was deeply rooted in "practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices or technologies in agriculture."

Likewise, Rutgers Cooperative Extension faculty at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station has provided a broad scope of expertise in agricultural sciences–plant breeding, insects, diseases, weeds, as well as soil fertility for a variety of fruit, vegetable, and horticultural crops.

Adapting to Changing Needs

In the past century, New Jersey, like state experiment stations across the U.S., has adapted to a changing landscape, both rural and urban, addressing a wide range of needs that include agriculture and food, home and family, the environment, community economic development, and youth and 4-H.

Rutgers NJAES has positioned itself to remain relevant to the needs of residents of the state of New Jersey, leading in the study of pollution—establishing the country's first university Department of Environmental Sciences, plus providing stewardship of New Jersey's natural resources, and leading important research in fisheries and aquaculture, nutrition, urban gardens, land use planning, small business development, and youth-at-risk programs — all of which serve the interests of a state no longer predominantly agricultural. Read more about the first Cooperative Extension office established in New Jersey: Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension of Sussex County celebrates 100th anniversary.

Acknowledgments: Excerpts for this piece were used from History of Cook College: George H. Cook and the Land Grant College, by the late Barbara Munson Goff, formerly Assistant Dean, Academic Programs.