Abraham Lincoln had a lot on his plate 150 years ago -- the country was in the midst of the Civil War, after all. But he took the time to sign legislation to "acquire and diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of the word." In that stroke, he created one of government's most important and lasting agencies -- the Agriculture Department.
Today, that department celebrates its 150th anniversary. "Through our work on food, agriculture, economic development, science, natural resource conservation and a host of issues, USDA still fulfills President Lincoln's vision as "The People's Department" -- touching the lives of every American, every day," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack when he kicked off the anniversary celebration last fall. "As we commemorate 150 years, we will look for lessons from the past that can help us strengthen USDA in the future to address the changing needs of agriculture and rural America."
Today, USDA may be looking to close and consolidate field offices, but the department still has more than 100,000 employees, and its work on everything from agricultural research to food inspection has a tremendous impact on the American economy.