Steam and the Agriculture Classroom

1 / 7
Above: A bobtail Case pumping water was shown in the 1904 edition of Agriculture for Beginners.
2 / 7
Top: Kansas State Agricultural College, early 1900s. (From the author’s collection.)
3 / 7
Above: A Holt harvester-thresher unit shown in Field Crops.
4 / 7
Right: A fanciful scene depicted in the 1923 edition of Elementary Agriculture.
5 / 7
From top: The shape of the canopy suggests this engine is a Reeves, shown in Agriculture for Beginners; what must be an early Best, shown in the 1909 edition of Practical Agriculture; a threshing scene from Practical Agriculture; a Case 110 shown in the 1912 edition of Field Crops.
6 / 7
Bottom: A Reeves pulling a thresher, also from Essentials of Agriculture.
7 / 7
Below: A sketch in the 1915 edition of Essentials of Agriculture shows a Reeves plowing.

” … every child intended for the farm should be taught to know
and love nature, should be led to form habits of observation, and
should be required to begin a study of those great laws upon which
agriculture is based.”

So wrote Charles William Burkett, Frank Lincoln
Stevens and Daniel Harvey Hill Jr., in 1903. To educate farm
children, the three had authored Agriculture for
, which became a popular textbook. Burkett was editor
of the American Agriculturist and had directed the
agricultural experiment station at the Kansas State Agricultural
College. Stevens was a professor of biology at the North Carolina
College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. His wife, also in
biology, became the first female faculty member at North Carolina
State University. Hill was a professor of English and bookkeeping
at North Carolina, and, from 1908 through 1916, he served as the
college’s third president. The university’s main library was named
after him.

Burkett, Stevens and Hill saw “no difference between teaching
the child the fundamental principles of farming, and teaching the
same child the fundamental truths of arithmetic, geography or
grammar.” When Burkett, Stevens and Hill’s book appeared, public
schools were just beginning to offer agriculture courses. In the
1850s, a few specialized agricultural high schools had formed, and,
in 1862, the Morrill Land-Grant Act had enabled states to fund
colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts, but four more decades
passed before agriculture entered the common school curriculum. The
proliferation of agriculture courses after 1900 coincided with the
increasing demand for steam power on America’s farms; consequently,
agriculture textbooks featured illustrations of steam engines.


Pictured in the first edition of Agriculture for
was a bobtail Case pumping water for an irrigation
system. Teachers around the country asked the authors to provide
supplements with information important to their regions.
Accordingly, in 1912, Henry Jackson Waters, president of the Kansas
State Agricultural College, supplied a lengthy section on wheat,
corn, silos and alfalfa. In Waters’ supplement were photographs of
a Reeves steam engine pulling a disc and an Avery steam engine
threshing wheat.


In 1907, Andrew M. Soule and Edna Henry Lee Turpin published
Agriculture: Its Fundamental Principles. By that year,
agriculture had become required in public schools in most states.
Soule and Turpin explained why: “The purpose of teaching
agriculture is not to make a farmer of each child, any more than
the purpose of teaching literature is to make an author of each
one. The study is, however, especially useful to children who will
some day be men and women with good farms to maintain or poor ones
to improve.” At a time when over half the population of the United
States was rural, Soule and Turpin’s point was well taken.

From 1903 through 1906, Soule was dean of agriculture at the
Georgia State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts; when he and
Turpin brought out their book, he had just been appointed president
of the college.

In 1918, arguing that the war demanded women trained in
nutrition and extension work, Soule persuaded the board of trustees
to admit women to the college. Given Soule’s respect for the
educational attainments of women, it comes as no surprise that he
co-authored his agriculture text with Turpin, a recognized editor
and author who had written for young readers. Soule and Turpin’s
book depicted a James Leffel portable steam engine involved in a
corn-shredding operation.


John W. Wilkinson, assistant state superintendent of education
for Oklahoma and formerly a professor of agriculture at the
Northwestern Normal School in Alva, Okla., published Practical
in 1909. Citing President Theodore Roosevelt’s
National Commission on Country Life, Wilkinson attested that the
“whole nation is beginning to realize the need of better rural
schools and more practical instruction.” Wilkinson added, “Likewise
it is no less important that pupils in our city schools should
receive some instruction in agriculture so that they may have a
proper conception of the country and the opportunities they might
enjoy there which would be denied them in the city.” Wilkinson
warned, “The solid and substantial wealth of our nation comes from
the country and not from the city, but this hard-earned wealth
produced on the farms is being nearly all diverted to the
improvement of cities and city institutions, instead of being used
for the improvement of the country and its institutions.”

Practical Agriculture carried a photograph of a Best
steamer pulling a plow. Wilkinson included a steam “thrashing”
scene and a view of steam-powered logging in the state of


From 1910 until 1920, A.D. Wilson held the post of first
extension director for the University of Minnesota. In 1912, Wilson
teamed with C.W. Warburton, a leading agronomist with the United
States Department of Agriculture, to produce Field Crops.
In a preface, they wrote, “The development of agricultural high
schools and of agricultural courses in the regular high schools has
been so rapid in the past few years that the demand for suitable
textbooks is as yet largely unfilled. The instructors in these
schools have been compelled to adapt to their uses college texts on
the leading agricultural subjects, to supply the necessary matter
in the form of lectures, or to supplement the necessarily brief
treatment which is given these subjects within the limits of a
single volume covering the whole field of elementary agriculture.”
Field Crops contained pictures of a 110 HP Case and a Holt
combined harvester-thresher.


A prolific author of agriculture texts for several decades,
Henry Jackson Waters (who provided the supplement for Burkett,
Stevens and Hill’s book) had edited the St. Louis Journal of
and had been a leader in mounting the 1904 St.
Louis Exposition. In 1915, he published Essentials of
, which became a favorite of public schools. Waters
relied upon 23 professors and scientists who contributed chapters
on their specialties. Honored by the Georgia Agricultural Hall of
Fame, Soule served as a consultant on the manuscript. Waters’
opening chapter is graced by an artist’s sketch of a Reeves steam
engine. A Reeves also appears in a threshing photograph.

In 1923, Waters produced Elementary Agriculture, with a
colored frontispiece of children amid pumpkins and shocks of corn.
In the distance is what appears to be a Case steam-threshing rig.
Waters concluded: “Agriculture is the richest of school subjects in
fact and tradition, and when it is properly taught no other subject
compares with it in human interest.” Readers of Steam

I thank Donald C. Thoma for lending me his copy of Field

Steam historian and regular contributor Robert T. Rhode
may be reached at: 990 W. Lower Springboro Road, Springboro, OH

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment