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Mosher, Martin Luther

Published onOct 11, 2021
Mosher, Martin Luther

(April 12, 1882 - March, 1982)

Quick Facts

Credited as the first county extension agent in Iowa, extension specialist and corn production private consultant, Mosher would take knowledge from the college to farmers throughout Iowa.

Martin Luther Mosher was born in West Liberty, Iowa on April 12, 1882 to Lemuel and Lidorena Mosher. Mosher grew up at Edgewood Stock Farm near West Liberty, graduating from West Liberty High School in 1902 (due to the change from a 3 year to 4 year high school, he graduated the same year he was a freshman at Iowa State). Mosher received a BA (1905) and an honorary Master of Agriculture (1915) from Iowa State College (now University). Mosher is credited as the first county extension agent for the state of Iowa, appointed in 1912 and serving in Clinton County. He was a leader in farm management, adapting the findings of scientific agriculture to farm management, and agricultural extension work.

After graduation from Iowa State, Mosher was an assistant in Iowa State's agronomy department where he was in charge of the Farm Crops Laboratory. He worked under Perry G. Holden, who in 1906 became the first director of Iowa extension (before the Smith-Lever Act established extension as a national program). Holden assigned Mosher to travel on the Seed Corn Trains (AKA “Corn Gospel Trains”) for about eight to ten weeks in 1905, travelling throughout Iowa on the railroads and stopping in designated stations to give lectures on corn, corn yields and hybrid corn to interested farmers. In 1906 he became Farm Crops Specialist with the Agricultural Extension Service, newly formed when the Iowa General Assembly appropriated funds in 1906 to create a Department of Extension at Iowa State College (now University). Holden assigned Mosher a variety of tasks related to productivity: determining the corn yields of the corn varieties farmers were planting on the county cooperative demonstration farms, the productivity of the types of corn being planted, how local corn compared to imported seed corn, and other information about corn production in Iowa. Mosher discovered from these studies that poor seed and unaltered imported seed were some the primary reasons for Iowa's low corn yields.

Mosher took a leave from his Iowa State duties in June 1908 through December 1909 to go to Mexico, working for private parties to help increase corn production and organize a national extension service in Mexico.

In 1912, while in charge of the county farm demonstration work, Mosher wrote to Ralph K. Bliss, who was then acting superintendent of Extension Service, encouraging Bliss to hire trained agriculturalists in each county to assist with the county's agricultural work. Clinton County was chosen as the first county to have such an agent, and Mosher was its first county agent (then "county agricultural advisor"). In September, 1912 he became the County Extension Agent in Clinton County. Mosher had been one of the lecturers who stopped at various points in Clinton County for the Seed Corn Trains when he worked as a lecturer under Perry Holden on the trains during 1906, and had received letters from farmers in Clinton County asking for more organization within the counties. When he came to Clinton County as the County Agricultural Advisor, Mosher did not follow the usual system of the county agent in other states, which was to make daily visits and work out individual problems. Instead, he used his experiences when he had worked with the county demonstration farms, and spent much of his efforts trying to establish more business oriented farming practices. For instance, he encouraged farmers to keep accurate cost accounts from year to year. He also developed soil demonstration plots, fashioning soil tests on the farmers' land, and having the farmers themselves determine how to use the results. The Iowa Corn Yield Test grew out of Holden and Mosher's work at Iowa State.

In 1916 he received a county extension agent position in Woodford County, Illinois and in 1923, he accepted a position as an extension specialist in farm management in the Farm Organization and Management Department of the College of Agriculture of the University of Illinois. Mosher completed his professional career as an extension specialist in farm management for the University of Illinois (1923-1950). He was in steady demand as an advisor and speaker to Illinois farmers and the surrounding states, and did research and extension work until his retirement in 1950.

Mosher married Elva Forman on December 29, 1908. Together they had five children: Arthur, Martin Luther, Jr., Ruth Ann, Vora, and Robert. Upon retirement, Mosher returned to Iowa and lived in Grinnell until his death in 1982.

Selected Sources

"Ag Department Cites Mosher in Washington." Urbana Courier, 5-16-1949.

Martin L. Mosher Papers, RS 16/3/55, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

Martin L. Mosher Papers, 1916-78; 8/4/21, University of Illinois Archives

Mosher, M.L. History of the Organization and Beginning Program of the Clinton County, Iowa Agricultural Extension Service: with an Appendix of Original Records. Urbana: M.L. Mosher, 1962.

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