IO Morrow Plots

Corn gathered from Morrow plots 3 and 5, with signs indicating the conditions under which each crop was grown. The left two piles represent fields planted with only corn every year and the signs read 'No Treatment' and 'Manure Limestone Phosphate,' left to right. The right two piles represent fields planted with corn, oats and clover rotation every year and the signs read 'No Treatment' and 'Manure Limestone Phosphate.'

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How did the oldest experimental plots in the United States get their name?

The Morrow Plots were named for George E. Morrow, but he was not the first to propose the plots.

Morrow was an important faculty member at the University of Illinois from 1876 until 1894. With the formal establishment of the College of Agriculture in 1877, Morrow became the first dean with the hopes he would increase agriculture enrollment.

He dedicated his time as dean to improving the program at the university and across the state. He was well-known for bringing lectures to farmers throughout Illinois.

Farming at the time was seen more as an art, rather than a science. The lectures given by Morrow and others helped farmers see how practical experience and science working together could improve farming. Many towns sought out Morrow to lecture them on topics, including dairy farming and horticulture.

Students at the time of Morrow’s administration were mostly the sons of farmers, but Morrow thought anyone could participate. Letters found in the University of Illinois Archives show that he was in favor of admitting women and “people of considerable age” to the agriculture program. He also sent a course packet to Miss Ada Worman, saying if any of these classes seemed useful, she should enroll.

Although the experimental plots bear his name, Morrow was not the first to propose them and conduct experiments. Morrow’s predecessor, Manly Miles, was the one who first presented the idea of permanent experimental plots, and he conducted research on the plots in 1876. Miles was not liked by Regent Gregory, and when Miles was given a large salary, Gregory threatened to leave the university. The board wanted Gregory to stay, so Miles was dismissed a year after being hired and thus ending the chance for his experiments to be long term.

Morrow left his position at Iowa State to take over the department in 1876.

Morrow conducted his long-term experiments on crop rotation either near or on the same plots as Miles. He experimented with corn, clover and grass, as well as comparing fertilized and unfertilized plots crop yield. Since Morrow was seen much more favorably and used the plots longer, his name was associated with them.

The Morrow Plots became a National Historic Landmark in 1968. During the process of nominating the plots as a National Historic Landmark, there was some difficulty in finding the exact date when the plots started. Yearly data sets were not published until the 1888 and 1889 seasons. The committee eventually found the earliest data were recorded as 1876.

As for his life before the UI, Morrow was the youngest of nine children and grew up on his family’s farm in Ohio. He enlisted in the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry before going to college. For a time, he was an agricultural journalist before beginning his work in higher education.

The Illinois Distributed Museum has online content about the innovations that have come from the UI, as well as self-guided tours of campus where you can view objects and buildings related to these innovations.

The Illinois Distributed Museum is a project under the direction of the UI Archives. See more at distributedmuseum.illinois.edu. The Illinois Distributed Museum is also a member of the Champaign County Museums Network. Learn more at champaigncountymuseums.org.

Kristen Allen is the Illinois Distributed Museum coordinator at the UI Archives in the University of Illinois Library. She can be reached at klallen3@illinois.edu.