Land-Grants -- Distinctly American

When it opened its doors in 1869, Iowa State was among the first of a new generation of distinctly American colleges. The land-grants (so named because states sold federal land to finance them) were a far cry from the ivory-towered institutions that catered to the upper classes.

Iowa State and the other land-grants were built on three revolutionary ideas: College should be open to everyone, regardless of pocketbook or gender. Along with the traditional classical education, profs should teach practical subjects, like agriculture, science and engineering. And knowledge should be shared far beyond the borders of campus.

Iowa State embraced the land-grant mantra -- access, practical education, shared knowledge -- from the start.

Open doors

Thirty-seven women joined 136 men in Iowa State's first class. One of Iowa State's early graduates -- Carrie Chapman Catt -- would go on to lead the successful push for women's suffrage. Another early graduate, former slave George Washington Carver would devote the rest of his life to teaching southern farmers and finding uses for their crops. Today, Iowa State enrolls students from every state in the nation and 120-plus countries.


The motto "Science With Practice," first used on campus in the early 1870s, aptly describes Iowa Staters' interest in science with practical applications. Classes in agricultural, home economics, science and engineering were added to the traditional classical arts coursework.  Professors and students put science to work, growing crops, improving health and inventing devices to carry us into the future. Carver declined lucrative offers from Thomas Edison and Henry Ford to spend his life in fields and labs, discovering thousands of uses for plants. In the 1940s, in the Physics Hall basement, Professor John V. Atanasoff and grad student Clifford Berry launched a digital revolution with their invention -- the world's first digital electronic computer.

Taking the college to the people

Iowa State's first president Adonijah Welch set the tone in 1870 when he held three-day farmer institutes throughout Iowa. In the early 1900s, agronomist Perry Holden, with the help of the railroads, literally put his classroom on wheels. In his "Seed Corn Gospel Train," he traveled the state, teaching farmers how to select and test corn to get the best seed. The novel teaching technique caught on and soon educational trains, offering expertise on all kinds of agricultural topics, were rolling throughout the nation. These early forays beyond the campus borders blossomed into the modern day extension and outreach specialists, who transfer university expertise to every county in the state.