Today In History: Oliver Kelley Founds The Grange
Modern readers may not be familiar with The Grange – an organization of farmers founded in 1867 by Oliver Hudson Kelley. The Grange was a popular, influential group of small agricultural interests who pressured government to regulate big business.
Kelley was a Minnesotan farmer who was raised in Boston, and then traveled to St. Paul in 1849. St. Paul’s economy was dominated by trade with nearby Native American tribes. Kelley, however, believed that farming would be more lucrative. He was correct. Kelley established a farm that brought him great local renown for its technological sophistication. It featured a complex irrigation system, a mechanical reaper and then-exotic new crops. His farm, as well as his writings on agricultural practices, won him national attention and eventually a position as a clerk to the federal commissioner of agriculture in America’s capital.
Kelley was moved during a tour of farms in Southern states in 1866. Kelley, a Freemason, found welcome reception at Southern lodges despite being a Northerner. He returned to Washington with the conviction to organize a national body of farmers. He founded the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, which would later be known simple as “the Grange.”
The Grange had unassuming beginnings. It was originally a social club, like the Masons. Over time, it snowballed into what was basically a lobbying group, wielding considerable political influence. Grangers were aggrieved by exorbitant warehousing fees and railroad shipping rates. They exerted political pressure to institute federal and state oversight of these industries.
The Grange was notable for its acceptance of female members. They also achieved a series of legislative victories that would be known as “the Granger Laws.” While not permanent fixes, the Granger Laws established a valuable precedent for government regulation of private companies on behalf of the common good.
The ensuing decades saw far-reaching reform movements that influenced virtually every part of American enterprise.