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.
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 that is simultaneously rural and urban, providing solutions to a wide range of issues in areas 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—as a leader in the study of pollution with the country's first university Department of Environmental Sciences; in providing stewardship of New Jersey's natural resources; and in conducting 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.