The Smith—Lever Act created the Cooperative Extension Service in 1914. However, several key legislative acts preceded Smith—Lever and these acts were critical in leading to the formation of the Cooperative Extension Service. The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 (also known as the Land-Grant Acts) authorized that each state be granted 30,000 acres (12,141 ha) of public land for each senator and representative of the states in Congress at that time. Revenue generated from these lands was to be used for endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college to teach fields of study related to agriculture and mechanical arts "to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life."
The second Morrill Act provided funding to establish the 1890 land-grant institutions. Under the conditions of legal racial separation in the South during the late 1800s, black students were not permitted to attend the original land-grant institutions. Passage of the second Morrill Act expanded the 1862 system of land-grant universities to include historically black institutions.
The Hatch Act is often likened to a sturdy bridge between the Morrill Acts and the Smith-Lever Act. Signed on March 2, 1887, the Hatch Act gave this nation its network of agricultural experiment stations. The Hatch Act states that experiment stations should "conduct original and other research, investigations and experiments bearing directly on and contributing to the establishment and maintenance of a permanent and effective agricultural industry." These experiment stations were charged with conducting research for effective and efficient production of food and fiber. Research findings from systems across the country revised farming methods to fit America's diverse geography, making farmers more productive.
The federal-state research partnerships funded through the Hatch Act supported research that addressed "hunger and poverty and the drudgery of subsistence agriculture production." From its inception, research stations created by the Hatch Act were designed to meet the needs of agriculture in the areas in which the experiment stations were located, but the research generated often has far-reaching applications. In fact, research supported by Hatch Act funding benefits every person in the United States and much of the world.
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Cooperative Extension Service. Senator Hoke Smith (Georgia) and Representative Frank Lever (South Carolina) introduced this act "to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture and home economics, and to encourage application of the same." This legislation created a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the land-grant universities, and the 1890 institutions that was charged to provide outreach education to the citizens of each state. In practical terms this legislation created the ability for representatives of land-grant universities and 1890 institutions to work with farm families on their farms to introduce research-based advances in agriculture, home economics, and other fields.
Today, this educational system includes professionals in each of America's land-grant universities (in the 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Marianas, American Samoa, Micronesia, and the District of Columbia) and in 16 1890 historically black, land-grant universities plus Tuskegee University.
The Cooperative Extension Service is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the land-grant institutions, and the 1890 institutions. Legislation in various states has also enabled local governments in the nation's counties to become a fourth legal partner in this educational endeavor. Organization of the Cooperative Extension Service at national, international, state, regional, and county levels is discussed below.
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