Frederick Watts (“Father of Penn State University”)

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Frederick Watts (“Father of Penn State University”)'s Geni Profile

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Frederick Watts

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of David Watts and Juliana Miller
Brother of Henry Miller Watts

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Frederick Watts (“Father of Penn State University”)

Frederick Watts (May 9, 1801- August 17, 1889), is called the “Father of Penn State University” and was a prominent agricultural reformer, lawyer and businessman who headed the U.S. Department of Agriculture as Commissioner of Agriculture from 1871-1877 under President Ulysses S. Grant.

He served as President of the Board of Trustees of Pennsylvania State University (originally known as the Farmer’s High School, then Pennsylvania Agricultural College) from its founding in 1855 through 1874. He was President of the Cumberland Valley Railroad from 1840 to 1873.


He was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the son of a prominent lawyer David Watts, and the grandson of a Brigadier General in the American Revolution, also named Frederick Watts. The young Frederick entered Dickinson College in Carlisle in 1815, but did not graduate because of the temporary closing of the school.

He practiced law and held positions in the local courts starting in the 1820s. In 1849 he was appointed as president judge of Pennsylvania’s Ninth Judicial District Court.

In 1827 Watts married Eliza Cranston, who bore three daughters before her death in 1832. In 1835 he married Henrietta Ege in 1835, who bore five sons and one daughter. He was a Whig and a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Carlisle. He organized the Carlisle Gas and Water Company in 1854, and served as a member of the Dickinson College Board of Trustees (1828-1833, 1841-1844).

In 1838, he and a partner bought the Pine Grove Iron Works on South Mountain near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

In 1840, with the help of Cyrus McCormick he demonstrated the operation of McCormick’s reaper for the first time in Pennsylvania.

In 1851 he was elected the first President of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society.

He lobbied for the passage of the Morrill Act, which became law in 1862 and founded land-grant universities.

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Frederick Watts (“Father of Penn State University”)'s Timeline

Age 88