the Winter 2003 edition of California Historian
is the record of what has happened in human
affairs, which we track through written records, artifacts or individual
stories. Part of the fun of history is finding out why things happened the
way they did — and sometimes why things didn’t happen the way they might
in point is the evolution of the University of California at Davis. Why was
a campus established away from Berkeley in the first place? After all, the
University campus at Berkeley — the original land-grant institution — was
large, fairly thriving and not overcrowded at the turn of the century. And
why, when a second campus was chosen, did the University of California
choose the Davis location in Yolo County rather than Woodland? At the time,
Woodland was the largest city in Yolo County, a wealthy agricultural and
banking center, and was said to have more millionaires per capita than any
other place in the state.
cattle at the 1921 International Live Stock Show in Chicago were exhibited
by the UC College of Agriculture at Davis. In the first half of the 20th
century, the Davis campus produced the greatest number and highest grade of
purebred livestock in the nation and was more representative of agriculture
than its parent location in Berkeley. Photo from 1932 issue of
California Blue Book.
answer these questions, we need to briefly consider the background of
agricultural development in California. Second, we will look at the
legislative actions that took place in order to establish an agricultural
campus. Third, we will review the general periods of development at what
became the University of California, Davis.
California agriculture 1830-1890
California was a land of huge ranchos with cattle raising as the main factor
in its economy during the Mexican period, 1821-1846. Very little income was
derived from farming as we know it. California’s economic picture soon
changed with the 1848 discovery of gold and the ensuing gold rush.
in the agricultural picture did not happen quite so fast. In the 1850s
Americans began buying land, but problems arose over Mexican land grant
titles and speculators drove up the prices of some of the available land.
Other problems were the lack of good transportation and a lack of water in
places where it was needed. Some of these problems were eased with the
gradual development of roads and water resources. There was also a general
lack of knowledge about how to farm in California and what to grow. Lots of
experimenting took place mostly by big land holders who could afford the
time and expense of experimentation.
things happened in the late 1860s. The transcontinental railroad was
completed in 1869 and the subsequent building of spur lines in California
changed the transportation picture completely.
the land-grant University of California was founded in Berkeley. Its very
first college was the College of Agriculture. The college’s first dean was
Eugene Hilgard, a brilliant soil scientist who immediately began to put out
dozens of research bulletins on numerous topics while building an academic
reputation for the institution.
of the problems of the earlier period were resolved, a massive wheat boom
took place during the 1870s and 1880s. More land speculation and
agricultural development went on as land titles got settled. In 1887 the
Wright Act enabled the establishment of public irrigation districts, solving
many of the earlier problems in water distribution.
1890s, farmers began to clamor for help from the University of California.
There was a big demand for university agricultural extension programs in
counties throughout the state. Many more students began to enroll in
agricultural courses at Berkeley. The university responded to their needs
for practical experience by sending students to various places throughout
the state. It became more and more obvious that Berkeley’s location was not
representative of the state’s climate and resources as a whole.
development in the 1890s was the growth of the California dairy industry.
The State Dairy Bureau was established and the industry published its own
newspapers. Dairy farmers began to seek university help with the technical
aspects of dairy production.
University of California College of Agriculture at Davis in the early half
of the 20th century. It was first known as the University Farm. Photo from
1932 issue of California Blue Book.
Berkeley responded with short courses in 1901 and 1902 that were well
received though limited in scope. Dairy leaders began to look at other
institutions of learning in states like Wisconsin, Illinois and New York.
Pressure began to build in California for the establishment of a university
dairy school and university farm. Locally, Yolo County livestock ranchers
and dairy farmers recognized the potential and were very interested in the
Legislative efforts to establish a university farm
In 1901 legislation was introduced which would have established a dairy
school on 40 acres in Kings County. This legislation was tabled.
legislation passed for the establishment of a dairy school in Yolo County
but the governor thought it too limited and did not sign it.
broader legislation was introduced for the establishment of a university
farm. Three types of education were to be included: short courses for
farmers, a farm school for farm boys and a practicum for university
students. The bill was introduced in the Senate by a Yolo County
representative but no site was fixed. A site was to be chosen by a State
Farm Commission. The bill was passed and signed into law in March 1905.
search for a university farm site immediately got underway. The Commission
solicited offers from across the state. Seven sites were offered in Yolo
County and toured by the Commission in May.
site selection task grew in size, the task of touring all the sites offered
was given to E.J. Wickson of the University at Berkeley. Wickson drew up
stipulations for consideration: the site should have prime soils, a
salubrious climate, readily available irrigation, railroad facilities and be
located near a progressive town. Wickson then toured the state, visiting 69
proposed sites and accumulating 2000 miles of travel by rail. His final four
recommendations in February 1906 were in Contra Costa County, near Suisun in
Solano County and near Davis and Woodland in Yolo County.
sites in Contra Costa and Solano counties were eventually dropped.
Contentiousness arose between Davis and Woodland. Woodland became so
vociferous that Wickson warned the Woodland Chamber of Commerce to tone down
or its entry of a proposed site would be dropped.
April 1906, after much debate by the Commission, Davis was selected as the
new campus site.
Davis? Davis and Woodland had very similar natural resources; certainly
Woodland was a far more attractive town. However, Davis was on the main line
of the railroad and Woodland was on a spur line. Davis was also a little
closer to Sacramento and to Berkeley. Finally, Davis had a bulldog of a
promoter — George Pierce, a local well-educated farmer, who has probably
never received his proper credit.
Development of Davis campus
From 1907 until 1921 the Davis campus prospered as a farm school and
university farm. In 1921 an agricultural college study determined that
agricultural colleges are of better quality when directly connected to a
university. So in 1922 the programs at Davis were reorganized and the campus
operated as the Northern Branch of the College of Agriculture for 25 years
of slow but steady growth until World War II.
the 1950s, when the College of Agriculture at Davis became a full-fledged
campus of the University of California, with the ability to independently
develop new colleges and professional schools, Davis has become
internationally known. Agriculture is no longer the central theme of the
campus but is still very important. Its agricultural beginnings have led to
the campus’s present strengths in the biosciences and veterinary medicine.
UC Davis is approaching its 100th birthday with many accumulated honors —
and the city of Davis is now the largest city in Yolo County!