Pioneer in American agricultural education who originated the method in which an expert demonstrates, farm by farm, new agricultural discoveries and technologies.
1833-1911 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
Unlike most of the Saddle & Sirloin inductees, Seaman Knapp began his pursuit of agriculture somewhat later in life, and he entered the field with a unique entrepreneurial and strategic spirit.
Born and educated in New York, his first career was as a college teacher in that state. In 1866, he moved to Iowa, where he headed the Iowa College for the Blind and established a stock farm. He became interested in testing improved farming methods there, and by the 1870s, Knapp had organized the Iowa Improved Stock Breeders Association and founded the Western Stock Journal and Farmer newspaper.
He was asked to lead the agriculture program at Iowa State College in 1879, where he also served a one-year term as college president. Knapp established the forerunner of the demonstration farm on Iowa State’s campus and, in 1882, drafted a bill to seek federal funding for experimental farming stations—the foundations of the Hatch Act.
From 1886 to 1898, Knapp worked for the North American Land and Timber Company of Great Britain, developing the rice industry in Louisiana and encouraging farmers to immigrate there and adopt his improved farming practices. The U. S. Department of Agriculture then hired him to promote improvements and diversification in Southern states, so he traveled to China, Japan, and the Philippines, learning new farming methods.
When the cotton boll weevil began to destroy crops in the South, Seaman Knapp established a demonstration farm in Terrell, Texas. Success there led the USDA to hire several farm demonstration agents throughout the region—the foundations of cooperative extension work.
To promote the demonstration farming plan, Knapp organized boys’ and girls’ cotton and corn growing clubs—one of the forerunners of 4-H.
Seaman Knapp’s initiative and innovation produced lasting contributions to agricultural education. In 1984, Knapp was honored by the National Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Did You Know?
The historical event that set the stage for Extension programs nationally occurred when E.H.R. Green, president of the Texas-Midland Railway, became interested in a “community demonstration farm” and invited Dr. Knapp to Terrell, Texas. Dr. Knapp convinced local businessmen to raise $900 to ensure against crop losses. Then Walter C. Porter agreed to farm seventy acres according to Dr. Knapp’s instructions. The Porter Farm Demonstration attracted much attention when Porter reported that he had made $700 more as a result of farming by Dr. Knapp’s recommendations.
“What a man hears, he may doubt. What he sees, he may still doubt. But what a man does himself, he cannot doubt.” Dr. Knapp
During the boll weevil invasion of Texas(1904), Knapp, as a representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), supervised a demonstration that proved the effectiveness of good farming techniques in weevil control. Thus he originated the program of the Farmers Cooperative Demonstration Work of the USDA, in which representatives of the department, usually known as county agents, worked with farmers to familiarize them with the findings of agricultural scientists. This system greatly improved the productivity of American agriculture in the 20th century.