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James Wilson

College Professor. Congressman and
Cabinet Member for 16 Years.

Some historians consider James Wilson the greatest of all U.S. secretaries of agriculture. In tenure and accomplishment, he set records that have never been equaled. Wilson was born August 16, 1835, on a farm in Ayrshire, Scotland. His parents came to the U.S. in 1852, settling in Connecticut before moving to Tama County, Iowa three years later. He attended Grinnell College, farmed, taught school, and was elected to the Iowa state house (1867-71), serving as speaker (1870-71). He was a state university regent and from 1891 to 1897 was a professor of agriculture at what is now Iowa State University. In 1897 he joined the McKinley Administration as secretary of agriculture and was retained by Presidents Roosevelt and Taft until 1913. Wilson was known as “Tama Jim” to distinguish him from Iowa Senator James Wilson, no relation. Tama Jim was an unusual combination of accomplished educator, shrewd politician and gifted organizer He revolutionized American agriculture by extending the U.S. Department of Agriculture into many areas. He established the extension service, began U.S. world leadership in agricultural science, inaugurated programs in agricultural economics, farm credit, soil conservation, and reforestation. He expanded facilities for research in plant disease and insect control and began a complex of experimental fields and laboratories at Beltsville, Maryland, that is known as one of the world’s greatest research facilities. He expanded weather forecasting, mapped soil types and pushed for all-weather rural roads and food inspection. Wilson began the huge building complex that houses the USDA. The classic colonnades stand as his memorial. He died August 26, 1820 in Traer, Iowa with interment in Buckingham, Iowa.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546