Better Farming Special Train, a traveling agricultural demonstration, on behalf of the Agricultural Extension Service, College of Agriculture, Ohio State University, 1909.
In 1862, the United States government approved the Morrill Act. Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill had first introduced this legislation in 1857, but the United States Congress did not pass it until five years later. The Morrill Act authorized the federal government to give each state and territory that had not seceded from the United States during the American Civil War thirty thousand acres of land for each United States Senator and Representative currently serving in the U.S. Congress. The individual states were to utilize this land to establish colleges:
where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.
Since the United States Constitution guaranteed each state at least two federal senators and one representative, the smallest grant of land would equal ninety thousand acres. Ohio received 630,000 acres of land.
The Ohio legislature accepted the land in 1864 and authorized the land's sale in 1865. The legislature established the minimum price for the land at eighty cents per acre. Despite this relatively cheap price, few Ohioans came forward to purchase the land. The state legislature quickly removed the minimum price restriction and the land sold more quickly. Upon completion of the sale, the Ohio government had received $342,450.80-approximately fifty cents per acre.
In 1870, the Ohio General Assembly, utilizing funds from the land sale, chartered the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. Governor Rutherford B. Hayes appointed a board of trustees for the institution and construction began in northern Columbus for the college's first building. The Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College opened its doors in 1873. Although the institution was to enhance Ohioans' knowledge of agricultural and mechanical practices, originally a majority of the faculty at the school placed much more emphasis on a liberal arts education, frustrating the members of the Ohio Board of Agriculture. In 1878, the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College became The Ohio State University.