University Museums

Title: Perry Holden, Vice dean, Division of Agriculture, 1902-1906; first director of Iowa extension, 1906-1912
Name: Portrait
Date: 2017
Medium: Oil on canvas
Country/Culture: American
Classification: Paintings
Credit Line: Commissioned by University Museums and the Department of Agronomy. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Object Number: U2017.384
More Information
Perry Greeley Holden was born in Dodge City, MN on October 13, 1865. After graduating from Michigan Agricultural College in 1895 with a Master of Science degree, he took a job at the University of Illinois as the first Professor of Agronomy in the United States. From 1901-2 he was manager of Funk Bros. Seed Co., helping establish their reputation as purveyors of hybrid seed.

In 1902 he started a ten-year appointment at Iowa State College, initially holding the position of vice-dean of agriculture. In 1906 he became the first director of Iowa extension, eight years before the Smith-Lever Act established a national extension program in 1914. He also established demonstration farms throughout Iowa counties. In 1904 he instituted his "corn gospel trains" which promoted the growth of hybrid corn throughout the state.

In 1912 Perry ran in the Republican primaries for governor of Iowa. After being defeated he took a job as the Agricultural Extension Director 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.

Perry Holden retired in 1932 and helped his wife with her egg business on their Michigan farm. The majority of his personal and business papers were donated to the Michigan State College Library shortly before his death in 1959. These papers are currently held in Michigan State University's Archives and Historical Collections Department.

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Perry G. Holden, was the first professor of Agronomy in the United States. He started at Iowa State in 1902 as the vice-dean of agriculture and professor of agronomy. In 1904 he instituted his "corn gospel trains" which promoted the growth of hybrid corn throughout the state. Through his various outreach programs, he promoted better selection and management of corn seeds. Part teacher, part salesman, part businessman and all showman, Holden was known as the “corn professor” and the "corn evangelist.” His work with corn ultimately improved Iowa’s corn crops dramatically and have greatly influenced agriculture today. In 1905 he became the first director of Iowa Extension, eight years before the Smith-Lever Act established a national Extension program. Holden also established demonstration farms throughout Iowa counties. In 1906 Holden became the head of the ISU Extension Service. “No man ever engaged in more rapid and effective mass education of farmers than did P.G. Holden from 1902 to 1910 in Iowa,” Henry A. Wallace later wrote.