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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published January 30 2011

Eriksmoen: Champion for pure products has legacy at NDSU

The first chemistry professor at the North Dakota Agricultural College, now North Dakota State University, later became president of the college and a U.S. senator.

Edwin Ladd was so respected by the residents and lawmakers of the state for his insistence that all consumer products be pure and clean that he was named state inspector for food, grain, paint, oil and even hotels.

At NDAC, there was a power struggle between the college administration and political conservatives. The Better Farming Association was formed in 1911, and it soon launched an attack on professor Henry L. Bolley because he exposed “the diseased condition of the soil and the prevalence of smut, flax wilt and potato scab.”

North Dakota bankers, a vocal majority of the BFA, wanted John H. Worst, president of NDAC, to either fire Bolley or keep him quiet. Worst instead defended his professor.

On July 1, 1914, the college’s board of trustees named former BFA Director Thomas Cooper as director of the Experiment Station and the Extension Service. Before that, both were under the supervision of Worst. Bolley and Ladd were to report to Cooper, but Ladd refused to accept that order and continued to run his own experiments. Cooper concentrated most of his efforts on forcing Bolley to resign, but the professor refused.

While Worst was at Washington, D.C., in November 1914, the board of trustees fired him and offered Ladd the position of president. Ladd said he would not take the position unless it was acceptable to the president, and Worst “refused to resign.” When no further action was taken, the state Legislature passed a bill in January 1915 creating a board of regents to control all of the institutions of higher education. All but one of the board members appointed by Gov. Louis B. Hanna was a bank, and all of the members were conservative Republicans.

When Worst tried to make Cooper his subordinate, he was fired by the regents. On Feb. 28, 1916, they named Ladd as “temporary” president. The next day, Ladd delivered his inaugural address, making it clear that business, including bankers, would not run the institution.

Ladd’s first goal was to reorganize the college. In October, the board accepted his plan to create the schools of agriculture, chemistry and pharmacy, education, home economics, mechanic arts, veterinary science, and applied sciences and biology. Ladd remained dean of the school of chemistry and pharmacy.

Ladd soon faced another challenge – World War I. When the U.S. entered the conflict in 1917, some younger faculty members wanted to join the military. To curb the depletion of instructors, Ladd obtained an order from the War Department that any faculty member “who wished to enlist should inform him and he would assign him to private military rank and retain his services as a teacher.”

During the war, Ladd was given the added duty of serving as federal food administrator of North Dakota.

By 1920, Ladd had become one of the most popular people in North Dakota. His attitudes were closely aligned with the Non-Partisan League division of the Republican Party. He was persuaded to run against incumbent Asle J. Gronna for U.S. Senate. Ladd defeated Gronna by 3,500 votes in the July 8 Republican primary. He then coasted to an easy victory in the November election. On Jan. 28, 1921, Ladd resigned the presidency of NDAC.

Ladd took his seat in the Senate on March 4, 1921, and was named chairman of the Public Roads and Surveys Committee. As a progressive, Ladd worked hard to improve the conditions of farmers and opposed legislation favoring big business and the super rich, what he called “the 2 percent of the people with their 65 percent of the wealth.”

While in the Senate, Ladd allied himself with progressives Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin and George Norris of Nebraska. His friendship carried over to the 1924 presidential election, when he supported LaFollette against Calvin Coolidge in 1924. Because he supported LaFollette, Ladd was dropped from his committee chairmanship in retaliation by the Republican Party.

While in North Dakota in summer 1924, Ladd came down with neuritis, inflammation of the nervous system, and died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on June 22, 1925.

Ladd’s legacy is extensive largely because of the consumer protection laws he helped enact. The one visible legacy is Ladd Hall – the Chemistry Building – on the NDSU campus. Construction was completed in 1911, and in honor of the centennial anniversary on May 16, 2011, there will be an open house at Ladd Hall and a Ladd Legacy historical symposium in the Century Theater.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net