Henry C. Taylor
"…I went to Washington with the hope of helping in the
further development of an economic service in the Department of
Agriculture which would enable the farmer to carry on his farm
operations with a clear mental vision of what was going on in the
whole world…" Henry C. Taylor, A Farm Economist in
In 1991, the American Agricultural Economics Association (AAEA)
christened Henry Charles Taylor as "dean of agricultural economics"
to herald his lifelong influence on the profession. Taylor grew up
on an Iowa farm during the latter 19th century, when growing
concerns about agricultural commodity prices and low incomes
fostered national consensus on greater equality for farmers. During
the first half of the 20th century, Taylor pioneered the science of
agricultural economics within the land grant university system and
the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over the course of his life, he
headed the Farm Foundation, the American Country Life Association,
and other organizations with similar commitments to rural
Taylor received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
in 1901 and joined their economics faculty the following year. Much
of his research explored how economics could be applied to ease the
plight of struggling American farmers. He served as the first
professor of agricultural economics in a land grant institution,
wrote the first agricultural economics textbook in 1905, helped
found the University of Wisconsin's Department of Agricultural
Economics in 1909, and chaired that department for a decade.
Pioneering Economic Research in USDA
In 1919, Taylor was invited by Secretary of Agriculture David
Houston to broaden USDA's farm management activities and
consolidate its disparate economic research efforts into one
agency. Appointed chief of both the Office of Farm Management and
Farm Economics and the Bureau of Markets and Crop Estimates, he
worked with bureau chiefs, economists, farmer advocates, and others
to foster his vision for a USDA-based economics research
The Bureau of Agricultural Economics (BAE), a predecessor of the
Economic Research Service (ERS), was inaugurated under Secretary of
Agriculture Henry C. Wallace, who appointed Taylor its first chief
in 1922. During Taylor's three-year tenure, he established many of
the economic research and service activities currently undertaken
by ERS. His research agenda emphasized data collection and studies
on farm production, prices, costs, markets, exports, and demand for
major farm commodities, and he initiated several studies on the
demand for alternative crops.
Taylor promoted practical, accessible, and beneficial research
for farmers. In 1923, the BAE sponsored the first USDA Outlook
Conference, a major annual event that continues to this day. Under
Taylor's leadership, the BAE produced the first analyses of the
economic impacts of grain standards, export tariffs, and other
newly promulgated USDA farm policies. However, as disagreements
over farm policy in Congress and USDA grew, Taylor left the
department in 1925.
Leadership in Other Agriculture
After leaving the USDA, Taylor served in a variety of national
and international leadership posts. Nonprofit institutions
interested in advancing the welfare of rural people began forming
early in the 20th century, and their missions matched Taylor's
aspirations. The founders of the Farm Foundation (1933) for
example, sought to make rural life more economically rewarding and
"wanted farmers to prosper and wanted all rural people to have
access to all the social benefits enjoyed by their urban
counterparts." They selected Taylor as the first director in 1935,
a post he held for over a decade.
Taylor also served as president of the American Country Life
Association (1919) and presided over one of its landmark
conferences, "National Policies Affecting Country Life," held in
Blacksburg, Virginia, in 1933. In conjunction with the conference,
Taylor authored an influential two-part series on agricultural
policy in the Association's magazine, Rural Life, illuminating the
wide spectrum of agricultural policy approaches being considered
and implemented in the United States, and confronting fallacies
associated with several of them.
Also in the early 1930s, Taylor served as the United States
Member of the Permanent Committee of the International Institute of
Agriculture in Rome, Italy, under an appointment by President
Roosevelt. Taylor wrote numerous books and articles about
agricultural economics over the course of his career and coauthored
a comprehensive history in 1952. He remained active in the
profession until his death in 1969.
About Henry C. Taylor:
- Parsons, Kenneth. "Henry Charles Taylor, 1873-1969: Organizer
and First Head of USDA's BAE," published by the American
Association of Agricultural Economists, Choices, 2nd quarter,
- The Farm Foundation includes a short biography of Taylor and
other directors on their website.
- Wunderlich, Gene. American Country Life, published by
University Press of America: Lanham, MD, 2003.
- Shaars, Marvin."The Story of Agricultural Economics,
1909-1972,"Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, 1972.
By Henry C. and Anne Dewees Taylor:
- Taylor, Henry Charles. 1992 (Abridged edition). A Farm
Economist in Washington 1919-1925. Department of Agricultural
Economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
- Taylor, Henry C. 1970. Tarpleywick: A Century of Iowa Farming,
Ames: Iowa State University Press.
- Taylor, Anne Dewees. 1958. "Bibliographic Guide to the Writings
of Henry C. Taylor, 1893-1957," Agricultural History, Vol. 32, no.
- Taylor, Henry C., and Anne Dewees Taylor. 1952. The Story of
Agricultural Economics in the United States, 1840-1932, State
College Press, Ames, Iowa.
- Taylor, Henry C. (coauthor). 1943. World Trade in Agricultural
Products. Macmillan Company, New York.
- Taylor, Henry C. 1925. Outlines of Agricultural Economics.
Macmillan Company, New York.
- Taylor, Henry C. 1919. Agricultural Economics. Macmillan
Company, New York.
- Taylor, Henry C. 1905.An Introduction to the Study of
Agricultural Economics, Macmillan Company, New York.