Extension Before Extension: The Origins of Demonstration Work at LSU

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, LSU Libraries Special Collections has put together an exhibit detailing the agricultural origins of LSU, and the university’s involvement in the evolution of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, 1914-2014. The exhibit showcases rare books, archival records, manuscripts, oral histories, publications and photographs from LSU Libraries Special Collections.

“Cooperative Extension at LSU” runs through January 24, 2015, come by and check it out.

A new addition to the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service Records is the recently digitized Louisiana Cooperative Extension Photograph Album dated approximately 1906-1917. The album contains over 300 individual photographs which cover a variety of agricultural topics including Louisiana State Fair exhibitions, train demonstrations, LSU agricultural and veterinary studies, sugar and rice experiment stations, forestry, boys’ corn and pig clubs, livestock, and various crops and agricultural processes.

The album is a small component of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service Records, 1906-1998. This University Archives collection contains over 50 linear feet of records, reports, publications and photographs pertaining to LSU, agricultural education, and the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. For those unfamiliar with the Cooperative Extension Service, it’s an ever-growing, ever-evolving educational life force covering a multitude of agricultural and domestic fields of study focused on community outreach. The album illustrates the early stages of agricultural demonstration work concerning LSU and the university’s involvement with the Cooperative Extension Service in Louisiana. It is believed that the photographs primary purpose, besides documentation, were to illustrate extension publications. Several photographs may be found published in the University Bulletin or LSU Extension Circulars of that time.  A digitized copy of the entire album may be found online through the Louisiana Digital Library.

 Louisiana Cooperative Extension Photo Album on the Louisiana Digital Library


Stock beets photograph from the album.

Stock beets photograph from the album.

The same beets photo published in an Extension Circular.

The same beets photo published in an Extension Circular.


What is Cooperative Extension?

Establishment of the Cooperative Extension Service officially began with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. With this legislation the United States government pledged to provide federal funding for agricultural outreach to rural communities through land-grant universities. The Smith-Lever Act was the last of three acts established to work in tandem towards the advancement of agriculture throughout the United States. The Morrill Act was signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862 establishing state land-grant colleges for the teaching of engineering and agriculture. The Hatch Act of 1887 provided federal funds to state land-grant institutions for the creation of agricultural experiment stations in which to conduct research. The Cooperative Extension Service was designed to take the agricultural research and educational findings of the land-grant colleges and experiment stations out to the community of farmers, homemakers and youth of the country who did not have ready access to formal classes or study. Services and information provided by the Cooperative Extension Service has been, and continues to be, both extensive and diverse covering all aspects of agriculture, homemaking and self-sufficiency.

The sharing of information from colleges to the community had been practiced in various forms prior to the establishment of the Cooperative Extension Service. Learning through demonstration methods developed by Dr. Seaman A. Knapp had been utilized across the country for several years through Farmer’s Cooperative Demonstration work. Louisiana was at the forefront of this agricultural and educational movement due to the advantages of farming in Louisiana year round. Additional efforts made by LSU agricultural departments and experiment stations also contributed to statewide advancements in agriculture. By 1909 Farmer’s Cooperative Demonstration work had been organized on farms in 44 Louisiana parishes and the first county agents were appointed. LSU conducted its own version of demonstration work through the Farmer’s Institute [1896-1906] and later the Farmer’s Short Course program [1910-present]. These courses were spearheaded by Professor William R. Dodson, and were designed for both agents and farmers to attend.


Probable Farmers’ Institute or Demonstration Conference on LSU campus.

Probable Farmers’ Institute or Demonstration Conference on LSU campus.

The development of agricultural programs designed for youth and women were also of great importance. Louisiana began its first corn club work in 1908 with 40 boys in Avoyelles parish. The program was designed to teach children and young adults new farming methods through demonstration. By 1909 corn club membership was reported at 1179 members. Additional clubs followed including boys’ pig clubs, and girls’ canning clubs all under the Junior Extension Service program. The establishment of state fairs and demonstration trains promoted the work of these Junior Extension clubs as well as encourage further public interest. Demonstration trains of 1910 in Louisiana covered more than 1,000 miles and were attended by approximately 55,000 people in two weeks’ time. The train exhibits and lectures from LSU brought information and research from the experiment stations to the masses for the improvement of agriculture across the state.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established a unique partnership among federal, state, and county/parish branches of government. Over the years the Cooperative Extension Service has grown to provide more than just agricultural information, but also tackle issues pertaining to quality of life, wartime relief, community assistance during epidemics or natural disasters, environmental conservation, and combating domestic poverty. The Cooperative Extension Service continues to serve Louisiana and the nation with services and programs designed to best serve the community and it’s ever changing needs by providing information about current developments in agriculture and animal husbandry, home economics, public policy or government concerning agriculture, leadership, youth clubs, economic development, and many other related subjects through printed materials and demonstration.

Digitized images from University Archives concerning Agriculture & Extension at LSU


Pig club boys at the Louisiana State Fair.

Pig club boys at the Louisiana State Fair.

Boys registering corn for exhibition contest.

Boys registering corn for exhibition contest.

Louisiana demonstration train group photograph.

Louisiana demonstration train group photograph.

State Fair of Louisiana

The Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport started out as a local fair in north Louisiana with two failed attempts to establish permanence in the 1880s-90s. The fair’s third incarnation in 1905 lay the foundations for the current Louisiana State Fair Association. The First Annual Louisiana State Fair was held in 1906 in Shreveport. At this point the Louisiana State Fair set out to become a regional fair garnering attention well beyond city or state lines. When the limitations of demonstration trains were recognized, extension efforts were transferred to parish and state fairs. The popularity and participation of corn clubs, pig clubs and canning clubs, along with the benefits of agricultural demonstration helped generate widespread interest for the state fair. Railroad companies offered special rates for fair attendance providing accessibility to just about everyone. The addition of major attractions and big name entertainment drew huge crowds and helped establish the Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport as a long standing annual event. Attractions in the early days included planes and air shows, acrobats, horse diving, horse racing, and eventually auto racing. By 1910 the fair was starting to turn a profit, which provided funding for permanent structures and modern advancements like electricity and improved waterworks.

Agricultural exhibits and competitions were also a major draw for visitors, as well as LSU football games. The Eighth Annual Louisiana State Fair of 1913 was an exemplary year. It marked considerable participation on behalf of LSU. Students manned several exhibits from a variety of LSU departments including Agriculture, Military Science, Engineering, Agronomy, Physics and Chemistry. Many of these exhibits included dramatic productions and scheduled debates in addition to visual displays dressed in purple and gold bunting. LSU faculty members served as fair judges and superintendents, many of which were also club agents or experiment station researchers. Saturday, November 8, 1913 was School and College Day at the fair. LSU students were granted leave from school that Friday to ride a special train bound for Shreveport. Upon arrival early Saturday morning, the LSU Marching Band emerged from the depot in full regalia, instruments blaring. They paraded through the streets with a procession of students and fair goers in tow. Later that evening the band played again for the LSU vs. Arkansas game. Roughly 8,000 football fans gathered to watch LSU defeated the Arkansas Razor-Backs 12 to 7 for one of “the most spectacular games ever witnessed on the State Fair Grounds.”

Journalism students published a special edition issue of The Reveille detailing all aspects of LSU’s participation in the fair that year to be passed out on the fairgrounds. Articles from The Reveille and the Shreveport Journal paint a vivid picture of the 1913 State Fair, with much praise given to LSU for its contribution to the fair’s success.

Digitized news articles concerning LSU at the 1913 State Fair:  LINK

The Louisiana State Fair Association Records, 1906-1975 are housed in the LSU Shreveport Archives. Digitized images from this collection are accessible online:  LINK


Louisiana State Fair's LSU and Experiment Stations exhibit.

Louisiana State Fair’s LSU and Experiment Stations exhibit.

Louisiana State Fair's boy’s pig club exhibition.

Louisiana State Fair’s boy’s pig club exhibition.

Louisiana State Fair. LSU Marching Band eating box lunches at the fair.

Louisiana State Fair. LSU Marching Band eating box lunches at the fair.



Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service Records, A3000, Louisiana State University Archives, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, La. Hill Memorial Library, Ranges 13, 14, 62, 77:90-91, 78, 83, 116, A:21, AA:9, D, Vault

Louisiana State University Photograph Collection, A5000, Louisiana State University Archives, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, La. Hill Memorial Library, Range AA: 31, Box 15

Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College. University Bulletin. Hill Memorial Library, LD3106 .A18

Agricultural and Sugar Clubs of LSU. Demeter, a Journal of Agriculture. Hill Memorial Library, S1 .D358; Middleton Library, MICROFILM 4153

Louisiana State Fair, Shreveport. List of premiums, rules and regulations. Hill Memorial Library, S555 .L684

Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College. Extension Circular. Middleton Library, S544.3 .L7 A18



William, Frederick W. Origin and Growth of Agricultural Extension in Louisiana, 1860-1948 (1951). Middleton Library, S544.3 .L7 W5

William, Frederick W. Yesterday and Today in Louisiana Agriculture (1940). Middleton Library, S451 .L8 W5

Joiner, Gary D. Lost in Shreveport (2010). Hill Memorial Library, F379 .S4 J65 2010

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