The National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry (the Grange) was a fraternal society founded in Washington, D.C., in 1867. Its aim was to advance the political, economic, and social interests of the nation's farmers. The Grange was established by U.S. agriculturist Oliver Hudson Kelley (1826–1913). As a clerk for the Bureau of Agriculture, Kelley had toured southern farms and talked to farmers. The trip gave him a clear understanding of the problems faced by U.S. growers. When he returned to Washington he resolved to set up an organization to assist farmers by providing a forum for discussion and the dissemination of knowledge regarding new agricultural methods. Six of Kelley's associates joined him in forming the group, and the following year he traveled to his native Minnesota to set up the first local grange.
Granges were organized at the state, county, and local levels, with membership open to all farmers and their families. After suffering through deteriorating economic conditions during the 1860s, the severe downturn of the 1870s hit the nation's farmers even harder—agricultural prices dropped while operating costs increased. Farmers took action by setting up or joining granges. The groups set up cooperative stores, consolidated purchasing (to get the lowest possible price on agricultural equipment and supplies), and even established factories where farm machinery was produced. The number of granges reached their peak in 1875, by which time there were more than 21,000 granges and national membership climbed to 860,000.
Granges lobbied their state legislators to pass laws favorable to farmers, including the imposition of maximum limits on rail freight and warehousing rates. The so-called "Granger laws" were later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that any interference with interstate commerce was unconstitutional. The ruling helped pave the way for the government to establish the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1887.
By the end of the 1870s the granges were in decline. Mismanagement of their interests and the pressure of competition forced most of their business initiatives to fold. Nevertheless the group did not completely disappear. Members of the Grange movement and other agrarians (including members of the Farmers' Alliances) joined the People's (or Populist) Party. Members of the national political party pursued initiatives favorable to farmers' interests. These included free coinage of silver, government issue of more greenbacks (paper currency that was first issued to finance the American Civil War, 1861–1865), a graduated income tax, direct popular election of U.S. senators, and passage of stringent anti-trust laws. Though the party itself was short-lived (it formed in 1891 and disbanded by 1908) its influence on U.S. politics was lasting. Many of its Populist initiatives were later made into law.
In the late-1990s the Grange had a total membership of about 300,000 organized in some four thousand local groups in 37 states. The Grange worked toward changing economic and political conditions to favor the nation's farmers and agricultural regions.
See also: Agricultural Industry, Farmers' Alliance, Munn v. Illinois, Wabash (St. Louis and Pacific Railway) vs. Illinois