The beginnings of journalism

By Thomas Beell, Greenlee Professor

Journalism at Iowa State began, so the story goes, with an idea “born in the warmth of an open fireplace” in the Stockyards Inn at Chicago.

A group of cattlemen had gathered at the inn during the International Live Stock exposition of 1904.

One of them was John Clay, the head of a prominent livestock commission firm, who complained that few journalists were competent to write about agricultural matters.

Typesetting, as well as journalism, have come a long way during the last 100 years at Iowa State. Photo courtesy of Iowa State University Library/Special Collections Department.

Clay’s comments were overheard by C.F. Curtiss,the dean of agriculture at Iowa State College, who was sitting nearby. At the time, few schools offered journalism classes, but Curtiss said Iowa State would be willing to provide instruction in agricultural writing if the means could be found.

Clay agreed to finance such a project on an annual basis. One year later, in the fall of 1905, he and 14 agricultural leaders and editors came to Ames to inaugurate the class. It was perhaps the first formal course in technical journalism in the United States.

The need for agricultural and technical
writers led to steady growth in the program, which expanded to include courses in broadcast and print journalism, and advertising and public relations.

Now, nearly 100 years after that first class, journalism at Iowa State has grown to 51 courses in two majors, a master’s degree program and nearly 1,000 students taught by 23 full-time faculty members and instructors.

To commemorate 10 decades of journalism at Iowa State, the Greenlee School will launch a yearlong celebration.

The festivities will include special awards and events, visiting professors, tours and souvenirs, and a variety of activities for current students and alumni.

(Editor’s note: Source documents for these Centennial articles include a 1956 Iowa State College news release; the Greenlee School Web site; introduction to Clay’s The Plough and the Book, by John Eighmey; the September 1905 issue of the Iowa Agriculturalist; and previous issues of the Newsletter.)