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Murray, William Gordon

Published onOct 11, 2021
Murray, William Gordon

(July 15, 1903 – November 16, 1991)

Quick Facts

William G. Murray was the Republican candidate for Governor of Iowa in 1958 and again in 1966, he was also engaged in Native American land appraisal in sixteen states for the United States Department of Justice, but may be best known for founding Living History Farms.

William Gordon "Bill" Murray was born on July 15, 1903 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Dr. Frederick G. and Jeanett (Stevenson) Murray. He received a BA (1924) from Coe College in economics, an MA (1925) from Harvard University in economics, and a PhD (1932) from the University of Minnesota in agricultural economics.

Dr. Murray served as a graduate assistant (1925-1926) in the agricultural economics department at Iowa State College (University). After briefly serving as an Assistant Agricultural Economist with the United States Department of Agriculture, he returned to Iowa State as an Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics (1927-1931). He was promoted to Associate Professor (1931-1937), Professor (1937-1974), and Professor Emeritus in 1974. Dr. Murray also served as the Head of the Department of Economics and Sociology at Iowa State (1944-1955). His research interests included farm credit, farm appraisal, and tax assessment of farm real estate. Among his major publications are Farm Appraisal: classification and valuation of farm land and buildings (ISU Press 1st edition 1940, 6th edition, 1980), and Agricultural Finance; principles and practice of farm credit (ISU Press 1st edition 1941, 7th edition 1980).

In January 1992, in Kansas City, Missouri, the American Farm Bureau presented its Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award to one of the best-known Iowa farm couples. Widow Alice Van Wert Murray received the award. It was the only time this most prestigious honor went to a husband-wife team. The Murrays, in separate careers, compiled lengthy records of service to agriculture at the local, state, national and international levels.

Bill Murray ran as the Republican candidate for Governor of Iowa in 1958 and again in 1966. He was also engaged in Indian land appraisal in sixteen states for the United States Department of Justice.

Bill Murray will be best remembered as founder of Living History Farms (LHF), a 600-acre open-air museum that tells the story of Midwestern agriculture. Turning to the project after being defeated in his second bid for governor, Murray realized his vision of an Iowa Indian village, an 1850s pioneer farm, an 1875 village, and a 1900 horse farm on donated land in Urbandale. After their marriage in 1975, both Alice and Bill applied their energies to continuing improvement of the living history museum. In 1979, the visit of Pope John Paul II brought international attention to the development.

Before founding LHF, Bill Murray dedicated nearly 50 years to teaching and studying agricultural economics at Iowa State University. His primary interests were farm credit, farm appraisal, and tax assessment of farm real estate. During the Great Depression, he prepared bulletins on the farm debt situation and in 1934 directed the establishment of county debt advisory committees. In 1942 he pioneered the annual county-by-county farmland values survey. He also authored several books, including Farm Appraisal, Classification and Valuation of Farm Land and Buildings in 1940.

While at Iowa State, Murray founded one of its most famous courses, the agricultural economics “450 Farm,” a real farming “classroom” south of Ames where students actually manage and operate a working farm. Purchased with funds from the Carrie Chapman Catt estate in the early 1940s, this student-run farm is now debt-free and has a net worth exceeding $700,000.

One special Murray team project was a time-lapse award-winning video titled “The Miracle of Corn” which portrays the production of an ear of corn grown from hybrid seed and the food or feed this grain represents.

Dr. Murray married Mildred Furniss in July 1928; the couple had three children: David, Jean, and John. Mildred passed away in 1974 and he married Alice Van Wert of Hampton, Iowa in 1975. His daughter, Jean, married Tom Sutherland (both members of Iowa State's class of 1956), the Colorado State University professor and dean of faculty of agriculture and food science at the American University of Beirut who was held hostage in Lebanon (1985-1991).

Dr. Murray died of cancer in 1991 at the age of 88.

Selections of text republished with permission from Iowans who made a difference: 150 years of agricultural progress by Don Muhm and Virginia Wadsley, published by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, 1996. 

Selected Source

William Gordon Murray Papers, RS 13/9/15, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

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