University Museums

Title: Martin Mortensen, head, Department of Dairy Industry, 1909-1938
Name: Portrait
Date: 1933
Medium: Oil on linen
Dimensions: 36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm)
Classification: Paintings
Credit Line: Commisioned by Iowa State College. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, Brunnier Main Storage
Object Number: U82.125
More Information
Martin Mortensen, (1872-1953)

The oldest dairy department in the United States was headed by Martin Mortensen from 1909 to 1938, during which time Professor Mortensen built the reputation, the enrollment, the research and the physical facilities to the highest standards.

When the burgeoning department constructed the largest and most modern U.S. dairy education facility in 1928, a courtyard was part of the design. For the Dairy Industry Courtyard, Iowa State President Raymond Hughes commissioned a fountain and sculptural reliefs by the artist Christian Petersen, thereby creating one of the loveliest spots to enjoy Petersen's sculpture on campus.

Mortensen fully supported the mural project, even when Hughes assigned him the unenviable task for raising $250 for the commission. For Professor Mortensen it was just another of the many leadership positions he took to bring the Department of Dairy Industry to full realization and recognition.

A 1908 Iowa State graduate and like Petersen, a Danish immigrant, Mortensen's personal research interests were in butter and ice cream making and in dairy plant management. He oversaw the constant improvement of dairy products, the furtherance of programs in Iowa regarding dairy plant organization and creamery construction, and the reduction of losses in dairy plants through economical operation.

Always interested in new ideas, Mortensen brought fine cheese making to the college, and Iowa State blue cheese, Swiss and Edam gained acceptance and commercial manufacture. Mortensen Road in Ames honors his legacy.


Additional label copy
Martin Mortensen was born in Denmark in 1872 and came to the United States at the age of twenty-one. After managing an Iowa creamery for several years, he entered Iowa State College in 1897 and took the course in dairy industry. After eight years in commercial work, he returned to the College in 1909 to become head of the Department of Dairy Industry, a position he held until 1938, when he reached the compulsory retirement age. As professor and emeritus professor, he continued his teaching and writing up to just a few months before his death. His special interests were in butter and ice cream making and in dairy plant management. Many honors came to Mortensen for his leadership in the dairy industry. He was an honorary member of the American Dairy Science Association, which he had served as secretary-treasurer, vice-president and president. In 1950 he was awarded the Commanders Cross of the Order of Danneborg by the Danish government. The award came in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement in the dairy industry and especially as a teacher of dairy subjects at Iowa State.

Fast fact: Mortensen Road/Parkway that runs along the south side of Ames is named in honor of Martin Mortensen, as is Mortensen House in Helser Hall.