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Extension History and Milestones

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Formally established in 1914, a national Cooperative Extension System was created to support agricultural research and education for farmers and rural communities through state land-grant universities.

In North Carolina, Extension is based at NC State and N.C. A&T State universities, where unique programs “extend” research-based knowledge to families, businesses and communities. The universities also work together, along with county, state and federal governments, to form a partnership called N.C. Cooperative Extension.

From its agricultural and rural roots, Extension has expanded to address an array of modern-day issues, from health and nutrition to community and youth development, from natural resources and environmental causes to disaster response and family support.

Today, more than 1,000 Extension experts deliver research-based programs across all 100 counties plus the Qualla Boundary, connecting millions of North Carolinians with timely tools and information from the universities.

Working alongside federal, state and local governments, as well as N.C. A&T, NC State Extension helps generate $2.1 billion in annual economic impact for North Carolina.

For more than a century, Extension has transformed science into everyday solutions that improve lives and grow our state.

THE BEGINNING (1862-1914)

  • 1862 | Abraham Lincoln signs the Morrill Act, allocating funds from the sale of public lands to establish “land-grant” colleges for teaching agriculture and mechanical arts in every state.
  • 1887 | The Hatch Act paves the way for land-grant colleges to create agricultural experiment stations for the purpose of conducting agricultural research, laying the foundation for the Extension system to follow in 1914. North Carolina legislation authorizes the establishment of an agricultural and mechanic arts college at Raleigh.
  • 1889 | The North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now NC State University, opens its doors as the state’s land-grant institution.
  • 1890 | The Second Morrill Act addresses educational inequality among African Americans, leading to the creation of new land-grant colleges, including N.C. A&T State University in 1891.
  • 1907 | James A. Butler is hired as the state’s first county agent, serving in Iredell. He hosts North Carolina’s first farm demonstration two days later.
  • 1909 | NC State signs a memorandum of understanding and North Carolina becomes the first state to officially partner with the USDA to conduct cooperative demonstration programs through land-grant colleges. The agreement also supports the development of “Corn Clubs,” the forerunner of 4-H.
  • 1910 | Neil Alexander Bailey becomes the state’s first Black agent. Working from his wagon, he travels Guilford, Randolph and Rockingham counties giving demonstrations wherever he can gather farmers.
  • 1911 | Home demonstration agents start the first Girls’ Canning Clubs, which expand and evolve into today’s Family and Consumer Sciences programs.
  • 1914 | The Smith-Lever Act establishes a national Cooperative Extension System associated with each land-grant institution. Extension in North Carolina – first known as the N.C. Agricultural Extension Service – is born on May 8. Benjamin W. Kilgore becomes the first Extension director at NC State.


  • 1920s and 1930s | Extension’s role changes during the Depression, with more emphasis on efficiency of production. North Carolina calls for family food production as an anti-poverty program, so Extension concentrates on family food supply.
  • 1929 | Extension opens the state’s first N.C. 4-H camp in Swannanoa.
  • 1936 | For the first time, Extension farm agents are serving all 100 counties.
  • 1940s | World War II prompts an increase in agricultural output, as Extension agents lead efforts to establish Victory Gardens and emphasize food conservation. Nationwide, some 20 million victory gardens produce more than 40% of the vegetables grown in 1943 for fresh consumption.
  • 1952 | Mary Margret Smith (p.14) becomes the first agent to serve the Qualla Boundary, as Extension formally partners with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
  • 1960s | Extension’s 4-H program expands to include urban youth for the first time, reflecting both the state’s declining rural population and Extension’s expanding focus beyond the farm.
  • 1964 | The Civil Rights Act promotes racial integration of any remaining separate Extension programs in North Carolina.
  • 1965 | The school name officially becomes North Carolina State University at Raleigh, or NC State for short.
  • 1969 | Extension and USDA launch the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), the ​​nation’s first nutrition education program for low-income families.
  • 1979 | Extension’s Wake County center trains the first NC State Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers.


  • 1991 | The North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service changes its name to the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service to emphasize the breadth of its programs.
  • 1993 | NC State launches the first university Extension website in the nation. Today, more than 11 million people visit our sites each year.
  • 1999 | Extension disaster efforts take center stage after Hurricane Floyd, the state’s most costly natural disaster ever at the time, as agents assist with emergency management and go door-to-door to provide research-based information to help flood victims recover.
  • 2000s | After the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, Extension helps kickstart an era of agricultural innovation and expansion as farmers adopt new crops and markets through initiatives like the N.C. Specialty Crops Program.
  • 2008 | The 2008 Farm Bill establishes NIFA, a new agency within the USDA, to allocate funding and guide Extension efforts in every state.
  • 2014 | 4-H and Family & Consumer Sciences (FCS) programs become official units housed within NC State Extension.
  • 2017 | The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service rebrands as NC State Extension.
  • 2019 | Extension’s annual economic impact to North Carolina is valued at $2.1 billion.
  • 2022 | NC State is selected as the forever home for the presidential-pardoned National Thanksgiving Turkeys, Chocolate and Chip, for the first time. Extension specialists oversee their care at the university’s turkey education unit.
  • 2023 | Extension launches an ambitious strategic plan for continued innovation and impact to meet the diverse needs of a rapidly growing state.

Extension Historical Milestones and Timeline

More Extension History