The Extension service originated with the agricultural societies founded in the early days of the American republic which provided educational opportunities for farmers and industrial workers. These agricultural societies were influential in the passage of legislation in 1862, permitting the establishment of Colleges of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in all states. In 1887, Agricultural Experiment Stations were authorized and the Cooperative Extension Service was established in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act. In Montana, the first county agents predated this federal legislation, with Milburn L. Wilson assigned to Custer and Dawson Counties, and Carl H. Peterson assigned to Fergus County. Gallatin and Missoula counties were the next to receive agents, and the entire program expanded rapidly in 1917 when the State Defense Council demanded more coverage in response to the United States declaration of war on Germany. Eventually almost every county in Montana had at least one agent assigned, as well as a Home Demonstration Agent. Although primarily agriculturally related in its early years, the major function of the Extension Service evolved to provide informal adult and youth education directed to helping people solve the various problems which they encounter from day to day.
All agents filed annual reports of their activities, detailing any special programs or presentations they may have performed during the year for their constituents. Information occasionally includes crop statistics, livestock statistics, weather summaries, and organizational efforts. These reports were typed in multiple carbon copies, with one sent to the state administration offices, one to Washington, D.C., and one retained by the agent.
From the guide to the Montana State University Extension Service Records, 1912-1970, (Montana State University-Bozeman Library, Merrill G Burlingame Special Collections)