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Celebrating A Century of the Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department

The Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department celebrated its centennial with a gala dinner held at Shields Library on October 3, 2015. As part of the celebration, Special Collections created an exhibit with highlights from the department’s first century. The exhibit, created by Sara Gunasekara, is now presented here online.

More information about the history of the department can be found on the Biological and Agricultural Engineering website.

Early Years

In 1915 J.B. Davidson, Head of the Agricultural Engineering Department at Iowa State College, was asked by Dean Thomas F. Hunt to come to Davis to create a professional Division of Agricultural Engineering. L.J. Fletcher, who replaced Davidson in 1919, persuaded the College of Engineering Mechanics at UC Berkeley to open an option in Agricultural Engineering. Starting in 1924, instruction in this program took place at Berkeley for the first, second, and fourth years, while a summer course and third year instruction were given at Davis.


In 1928 the division moved into a new building designed by William C. Hays. It was named Walker Hall in 1959 in honor of Professor Harry B. Walker who served as Chair from 1928-1947.


Professor Roy Bainer served as Chair from 1947-1961 and as Founding Dean of the College of Engineering. Listen to Roy Bainer’s oral history, Engineering of Abundance, on the Internet Archive.

Engineering Building I, a reinforced and precast concrete structure designed by Dreyfuss & Blackford, was dedicated in 1968. In 1969, it was named in honor of Roy Bainer.

Tomato Harvester

In 1949, UC Davis agricultural engineer Coby Lorenzen and UC Davis vegetable crops researcher Jack Hanna began work on developing a harvester and a tomato variety that could withstand the rigors of mechanical picking. During the 1950s, the UC Davis team refined the experimental harvester and in 1959 Blackwelder Manufacturing of Rio Vista, California commercialized the design. The tomato harvester is said to have saved California’s processed tomato industry in the 1960s. View a digitized recording of the UC Blackwelder tomato harvester on the Internet Archive.



More information about the history of the department can be found on their website.

Images (unless otherwise credited) are the property of the Regents of the University of California; no part may be reproduced or used without permission of the Department of Special Collections.