In an unattributed photo from 1948, a boy looks out over a Missouri farm field. Since 1914, MU Extension has shared objective, research-based knowledge with Missouri families.

i t took five years of political wrangling, but in the spring of 1914 legislation proposed by Rep. Asbury F. Lever of South Carolina — an act that would help land-grant colleges and universities introduce “among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture” — passed the House of Representatives. A few days later Hoke Smith of Georgia introduced the bill in the Senate. The legislation, now called the Smith-Lever Act, passed easily and was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson.

Thus was born the Cooperative Extension Service, a program that enabled universities like MU to share scientific and practical advances in agriculture with rural Americans. A century later, there is little doubt that the resulting “extension” services were a key component in the dramatic rise of American agricultural productivity in the 20th century.

In its early days, when most state residents still lived and worked on farms, programs focused on improving rural life. MU Extension workers demonstrated how to produce more and better varieties of agricultural commodities; shared the benefits of better nutrition, clothing and housing; and showed how working together to bring about major improvements, such as electric cooperatives, would boost standards of living. As the years passed, MU Extension’s mission widened. In 1927, for example, 4-H Clubs came on board. In 1955, the establishment of “cooperative extension councils” in each Missouri county allowed community members to directly articulate their own educational needs.

When Missouri’s population shifted to the cities, programs for urban populations joined MU Extension’s roster of services. Today these include after-school youth leadership programs in federal-housing developments, food and nutrition education for limited-resource populations, and labor education delivered through interactive television.

As MU Extension begins its new century of service, the archival images on these pages, made by and for experts working with Missourians of all backgrounds, offer tribute to those who have brought, and continue to bring, MU expertise to our state’s citizens. See more images like the ones reproduced here, at Illumination.missouri.edu.

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