ISU Ag Engineering 100th Celebration Includes Historical Symposium

July 6th, 2005

A historical symposium at an international meeting is the next step in the centennial celebration for Iowa State University's Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.

The department's roots are traced to 1905 when Jay B. Davidson arrived in Ames from the University of Nebraska to take a position as assistant professor-in-charge of farm mechanics in the agronomy department. He organized the Department of Farm Mechanics, creating the world's first agricultural engineering department.

Davidson is recognized internationally as the "father of agricultural engineering." Not only did he found the world's first academic program in the field, he was the creative force behind the formation of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE). Davidson was elected in 1907 as the first ASAE president.

So it's fitting that a special symposium honoring Davidson be held at this year's ASAE annual meeting in Tampa, Fla. The symposium, titled "Agricultural Engineering — Its Creation and 100-Year Service to Humanity," will be July 18 from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Seven speakers will participate, including four past presidents of ASAE. Davidson's role in the development of the agricultural engineering profession will be discussed. Symposium speakers also will review how the profession has enhanced the status of the agricultural industry in the world economy, how mechanization has changed agriculture and how people in both rural and urban areas have benefited from the agricultural engineering profession.

A poster that includes 60 historical photos and a timeline of Iowa State's agricultural and biosystems engineering department has been created and will be on display at the ASAE meeting. Some key items in the timeline:

1905 - Farm Mechanics building constructed as an addition to Agricultural Hall; program in Agricultural Engineering initiated within the agronomy department
1907 - American Society of Agricultural Engineers founded with Jay Davidson as president
1910 - Agricultural Engineering listed as a separate department under the College of Agriculture; W. A. Waggoner granted first Agricultural Engineering degree; First Agricultural Engineering extension engineer appointed
1913 - Agricultural Engineering Department jointly administered between Colleges of Agriculture and Engineering
1915 - First M.S. degree awarded to Daniel S. Scoates
1923 - Agricultural Engineering Laboratory constructed
1934 - Agricultural Engineering Research Farm purchased
1936 - First doctorate awarded to Eugene McKibben
1941 - Agricultural Engineering Lab destroyed by fire; present building constructed on site
1946 - Jay Davidson retires; Hobart Beresford appointed department head
1953 - First model watershed using similitude principles constructed
1962 - Clarence Bockhop appointed department head
1966 - Large round baler designed by Virgil Haverdink and Wesley F. Buchele
1972 - A second program, Agricultural Mechanization, established within the College of Agriculture
1975 - Agricultural Engineering Building named Davidson Hall
1980 - H. P. Johnson appointed department head
1984 - First computers enabling design within the department purchased
1988 - James Gilley appointed department head
1991 - Agricultural Engineering program title changed to Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE); Agricultural Mechanization title changed to Agricultural Systems Technology (AST)
1993 - Stewart Melvin appointed department head
2000 - 2,085 ABE students have received bachelor's degrees; 249 have received AST degrees; 450 master's and doctorate degrees have been conferred
2001- Ramesh Kanwar appointed department chair
2004 - Department of Industrial Education and Technology moves from the College of Education to merge with the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
2005 - 144 ABE students, 138 AST students, 227 Industrial Technology students and 75 graduate students enrolled

The historical poster is being displayed at events throughout this centennial year. Besides the July 18 symposium at the ASAE meeting, upcoming events include an alumni gathering in Ames Oct. 6-8. Activities will include the Iowa Section ASAE meeting and banquet Oct. 6; several tours, a barbecue lunch on the Davidson Hall front lawn prepared by student groups, an evening of reminiscing Oct. 7; and tailgating under an ABE centennial tent before and after the Oct. 8 football game.

More details on the ABE centennial celebration are online at

The department is administered jointly by the College of Agriculture and the College of Engineering. Its original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system - the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling and use of food, fiber and other biological products.


Ramesh Kanwar, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, (515) 294-4913,
Carl Bern, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, (515) 294-1270,
Susan Ziegenbusch, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, (515) 294-0462,
Susan Thompson, Communications Service, (515) 294-0705,