Adams Act Primary Source eText

Primary Source


By: Henry Cullen Adams

Date: March 16, 1906

Source: U.S. Congress. Adams Act. 34 Stat. 63. March 16, 1906. In Knoblauch, Harold C., Ernest M. Law, and W. P. Meyer. State Agricultural Experiment Stations: A History of Research Policy and Procedure. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, May 1962, 221–222.

About the Author: Henry Cullen Adams (1850–1906) was born in Verona, New York, but moved to Wisconsin, where he served in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1883 to 1887. In 1902 he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served two terms and sponsored the law bearing his name that doubled federal appropriations to agricultural experiment stations.


The tension between applied science and pure research has been a long-standing one in American history. The goal of applied research is the discovery of useful knowledge—a cure for cancer, for example. The goal of pure research is knowledge for its own sake, without practical application. Throughout American history the proponents of applied science have held the upper hand. In the eighteenth century the prestige of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, the nation's most prominent scientists, set the scientific agenda. Both believed that America needed scientists whose knowledge would contribute practical benefits to this new nation. They envisioned scientists working with farmers, for example, to increase crop yields. Moreover, they wanted America to establish its own traditions apart from Europe. They saw the European tradition of pure science as old-fashioned and therefore unsuited to a bold new nation.

During the nineteenth century a minority of scientists began to insist that pure research was as legitimate as applied science. They promoted this view through scientific societies, notably the American Association for the Advancement of Science, established in 1848. They believed that scientists should have the freedom to choose their own research paths without the artificial restriction that they lead to useful knowledge. Technicians might pursue practical matters, but scientists had a higher calling: to discover truth for its own sake. Nonetheless, the dawn of the twentieth century was the era of the automobile, the airplane, and the electric railway—and of practical men like Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, and Luther Burbank.


In 1906, Congress attempted to tip the balance more in favor of pure research by passing the Adams Act. The act gave up to $15,000 a year to each state agricultural experiment station to fund "original researches." This was a remarkable turnabout, for Congress and the states had originally charged them with doing applied research in the tradition of Jefferson and Franklin. The Adams Act was therefore a victory for pure research, which had been pursued by a few scientists in such disciplines as physics and geology but not agriculture.

Yet the Adams Act was a victory for applied science as well. In 1914 biologist Elmer McCollum, using funds provided by the Adams Act, discovered the first vitamin, which led to vitamin-fortified milk during the 1920s. In the 1940s the Adams Act funded microbiologist Salman Waksman's discovery of the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis. These successes validate Jefferson's and Franklin's insight that American science is practical at its core—or at least suggest that the boundaries between pure and applied research can be uncertain.

Primary Source: Adams Act

SYNOPSIS: This passage is the full text of the Adams Act. The essential point is in the first paragraph: Congress will fund pure research at the agricultural experiment stations, institutions that the state legislatures and Congress had originally charged with discovering practical knowledge.

AN ACT To provide for an increased annual appropriation for agricultural experiment stations and regulating the expenditure thereof

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there shall be, and hereby is, annually appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, to be paid as hereinafter provided, to each State and Territory, for the more complete endowment and maintenance of agricultural experiment stations now established or which may hereafter be established in accordance with the act of Congress approved March second, eighteen hundred and eighty-seven, the sum of five thousand dollars in addition to the sum named in said act for the year ending June thirtieth, nineteen hundred and six, and an annual increase of the amount of such appropriation thereafter for five years by an additional sum of two thousand dollars over the preceding year, and the annual amount to be paid thereafter to each State and Territory shall be thirty thousand dollars, to be applied only to paying the necessary expenses of conducting original researches or experiments bearing directly on the agricultural industry of the United States. having due regard to the varying conditions and needs of the respective States or Territories.

Sec. 2. That the sums hereby appropriated to the States and Territories for the further endowment and support of agricultural experiment stations shall be annually paid in equal quarterly payments on the first day of January, April, July, and October of each year by the Secretary of the Treasury upon the warrant of the Secretary of Agriculture, out of the Treasury of the United States, to the treasurer or other officer duly appointed by the governing boards of said experiment stations to receive the same, and such officers shall be required to report to the Secretary of Agriculture on or before the first day of September of each year a detailed statement of the amount so received and of its disbursements, on schedules prescribed by the Secretary of Agriculture. The grants of money authorized by this act are made subject to legislative assent of the several States and Territories to the purpose of said grants: Provided, That payment of such in stallments of the appropriation herein made as shall become due to any State or Territory before the adjournment of the regular session of legislature meeting next after the passage of this act shall be made upon the assent of the governor thereof, duly certified by the Secretary of the Treasury.

Sec. 3. That if any portion of the moneys received by the designated officer of any State or Territory for the further and more complete endowment, support, and maintenance of agricultural experiment stations as provided in this act shall by any action or contingency be diminished or lost or be misapplied, it shall be replaced by said State or Territory to which it belongs, and until so replaced no subsequent appropriation shall be apportioned or paid to such State or Territory; and no portion of said moneys exceeding five per centum of each annual appropriation shall be applied, directly of indirectly, under any pretense whatever, to the purchase, erection, preservation, or repair of any building or buildings, or to the purchase or rental of land. It shall be the duty of each of said stations annually, on or before the first day of February, to make to the governor of the State or Territory in which it is located a full and detailed report of its operations, including a statement of receipts and expenditures, a copy of which report shall be sent to each of said stations to the Secretary of Agriculture, and to the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

Sec. 4. That on or before the first day of July in each year after the passage of this act the Secretary of Agriculture shall ascertain and certify to the Secretary of the Treasury as to each State and Territory whether it is complying with the provisions of this act and is entitled to receive its share of the annual appropriation for agricultural experiment stations under this act and the amount which thereupon each is entitled, respectively, to receive. If the Secretary of Agriculture shall withhold a certificate from any State or Territory of its appropriation, the facts and reasons therefore shall be reported to the President, and the amount involved shall be kept separate in the Treasury until the close of the next Congress, in order that the State or Territory may, if it shall so desire, appeal to Congress from the determination of the Secretary of Agriculture. If the next Congress shall not direct such sum to be paid, it shall be covered into the Treasury; and the Secretary of Agriculture is thereby charged with the proper administration of this law.

Sec. 5. That the Secretary of Agriculture shall make an annual report to Congress on the receipts and expenditures and work of the agricultural experiment stations in all of the States and Territories, and also whether the appropriation of any State or Territory has been withheld; and if so, the reason therefor.

Sec. 6. That Congress may at any time amend, suspend, or repeal any or all of the provisions of this act.

Approved March 16, 1906.

Further Resources


Daniels, George H. Science in American Society: A Social History. New York: Knopf, 1971.

Dupree, A. Hunter. Science in the Federal Government. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957.

Oleson, Alexandra, and Sanborn C. Brown. The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Early American Republic. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

True, Alfred C. A History of Agricultural Experimentation and Research in the United States, 1607–1925. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1937.

Van Tassel, David, and Michael G. Hall, eds. Science and Society in the United States. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey, 1966.


Danbom, David B. "The Agricultural Experiment Station and Professionalism: Scientists' Goals for Agriculture, 1887–1910." Agricultural History, Spring 1986, 246–255.

Marcus, Alan I. "The Wisdom of the Body Politic: The Changing Nature of Publicly Sponsored American Agricultural Research Since the 1830s." Agricultural History, Summer 1988, 4–26.

Rosenberg, Charles E. "The Adams Act: Politics and the Cause of Scientific Research." Agricultural History, January 1964, 3–21.

Shryock, Richard. "American Indifference to Basic Science during the 19th Century." Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Sciences, March 1948, 50–65.


"Agriculture Experiment Station WWW Sites." Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station. Available online at; website home page: (accessed January 5, 2003).