In 1866, Leonidus L. Polk started the Progressive Farmer. His journal eventually served over one million readers. Image courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
Originally devoted to agricultural issues in the Tar Heel State, the Progressive Farmer started publication in Winston, North Carolina, on February 10, 1886. Farmer, Confederate veteran, newspaperman, and former North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Leonidas L. Polk (1837-1892) founded the journal.
The periodical resembled other Polk editorial ventures, most notably the Farmer and Mechanic, a publication of the Department of Agriculture in 1877-79. From the beginning, Progressive Farmer offered essays with practical advice for farm families. The paper also included poetry, politics, and humor that related to farming issues. In 1891, for instance, the tales and sketches of "Zeke Bilkins," a fictional farmer with political interests, appeared regularly. A common practice of "Uncle Zeke" was to use the newly invented telephone to call, pester, and debate politicians on popular and contentious issues. "Uncle Zeke" always won.
Polk and his Progressive Farmer were widely credited with creating an agricultural school in North Carolina. The journal frequently included essays calling for the establishment of a separate college for agriculture and the mechanical arts under the Morrill Act of 1862. The University of North Carolina had been collecting the allotted Morrill money since 1875, but the institution never created a department of agriculture. To meet an increasing need, the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (currently North Carolina State University) opened its doors in 1889.
More @ North Carolina History