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Holden, Perry G.

Published onAug 06, 2021
Holden, Perry G.

(October 14, 1865 — 1959)

Quick Facts

Considered by many to be the first professor of agronomy in the U.S., Perry G. Holden was the first Head of Agricultural Extension (1906-1912) at Iowa State.

Perry Greeley Holden was born on October 14, 1865 in Dodge County, Minnesota, grew up in Michigan, and received a BS (1889) and MS (1895) from Michigan Agricultural College (Michigan State University); also, a Bachelor of Pedagogy (1894) and Master of Pedagogy (1912) from Michigan State Normal College (Eastern Michigan University).

During his early career, he served as fellow and instructor in agriculture (1889-1893) at Michigan Agricultural College, professor of science (1895) at Benzonia College (MI), and Benzie County school superintendent (1896-1897). He moved to the University of Illinois where he was an assistant professor (1898-1899) in soil physics and professor (1899-1900) of agronomy. He served as an agriculturalist for the Illinois Sugar Refining Company and assisted in organizing the Funk Brothers Seed Company for the scientific breeding of corn.

Corn Gospel Train

In 1902 he started a ten-year appointment at Iowa State College (now University), initially holding the position of Vice Dean of agriculture and Professor of Agronomy (1902-1906). In 1904 he instituted his "Iowa Corn Gospel Trains" which promoted the growth of hybrid corn and other crops throughout the state. In 1905 he became the first Head of Agricultural Extension (1906-1912) at Iowa State College, eight years before the Smith-Lever Act established a national extension program in 1914. He also established county demonstration farms throughout the state of Iowa focused on crop evaluation and seed testing and set the standard for Iowa State’s future Extension work as well as publishing bulletins on potatoes, corn, and sugar beets. He is considered by many to be the first professor of agronomy in the U.S.

In 1912 Perry ran in the Republican primaries for governor of Iowa. After being defeated he took a job as the Agricultural Extension Director (1912-1932) with International Harvester Co. in Michigan. Here he worked persuading farmers in America to diversify and engage in scientific agriculture. His special interest was in alleviating the suffering in the South caused by the boll weevil through diversification.

Holden married Carrie Amalia Burnett (b. 1864) and they had four children: Eugene, Helen, Ellsworth, and one who died in infancy. Perry Holden retired in 1932 and helped his wife with her egg business on their Michigan farm. Holden died in 1959.

Selected Sources

Perry G. Holden Collection, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, UA.17.26:

The Perry G. Holden Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Iowa State University Library, RG 16/3/11:

Lorraine J. Pellack, Iowa State University and Douglas L. Karlen, United States Department of Agriculture. Iowa Crop Variety Yield Testing: A History and Annotated Bibliography

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