Albert A. Johnson was born on January 1, 1880 near Mc Farland, WI, to parents Isaac and Ellen Aase (Bakke) Johnson. He grew up in South Dakota with his mother and her brothers after his father died when Johnson was only 2 years old (Downs, 1934). His began his education at South Dakota State College but graduated from the College of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin in 1907 with a B.S. (Cavaioli, 2012).
Johnson was chosen by the Board of Directors of The New York State School of Agriculture on Long Island to become the school's first director due to his experience in agriculture education (Cavaioli, 2012). He left his position as the Superintendent of the Milwaukee School of Agriculture to accept the offer from Farmingdale. According to Cavaioli (2012), Johnson "worked with the New York State Architect to design the campus and guided the construction of the first buildings: Agronomy (Cutler Hall), Horticulture (Hicks Hall), Director's Cottage, Powerhouse (Conklin Hall) with smoke stack, and dormitories."
In an editorial from the July 20, 1920 edition of the New York American, columnist Arthur Brisbane asserts that Johnson "deserves his reputation as one of the best executives and one of the best teachers in the country" (Brisbane, 1920). Johnson was instrumental in the development of the school's curriculum. He promoted a "learn by doing" philosophy, believing that the best way to learn was "through hands-on experience" (Cavaioli, 2012).
Despite Johnson's reputation as a leader in agricultural education, his time as director was plagued by controversy that led to his resignation in 1923. According to Cavaioli (2012), "issues emerged that challenged Director Johnson's management style and even the viability of the agricultural institution itself." Two investigations into the management of the school, coupled with a student protest in which 113 students went on strike, many of whom signed a petition letter calling for Johnson's removal, eventually brought Johnson to the decision to resign (Cavaioli, 2012). It was clear that, although Johnson was cleared of any wrongdoing in both investigations, his leadership was in question. According to Cavaioi1 (2012), Johnson believed that he was successful in carrying out his mission to establish an agricultural school on Long Island.
Johnson, who had embarked on humanitarian missions to the Near East while still Director, continued with his work overseas to combat famine due to poor agricultural conditions. He made 12 trips to the Soviet Union between 1921 and 1936, published several books and articles, and eventually formed his own consulting company (Cavaioli, 2012). Johnson died in 1963, and his ashes – along with those of his favorite cat, were deposited in the soil in the Horticultural Teaching gardens on the grounds of the Farmingdale campus at the request of Johnson's family (Cavaioli, 2012). A memorial marker is in place that can still be seen today.
- Letter to Franklin W. Hooper, Secretary of the Board of Directors, 1913
- Director Johnson at construction site.
- Editorial by columnist Arthur Brisbane, July 20, 1920.
- Johnson's message in the 1921 NYSSA.
- August 1921, The Furrow
- September 1921, The Furrow
- The Oyster Bay Guardian, June 23, 1922
- 1962 letter from Director Johnson to Mr. Locke James.
Brisbane, Arthur. 1920. "A School That Creates Farmers and a First- Class teacher of Farming, Albert A. Johnson, of Farmingdale, Long Island, N.Y." Record Group 1 (RG1) Box 5. Historical Manuscripts, Printed Materials – 1920. Farmingdale State College Archives, Farmingdale, NY
Cavaioli, Frank J. 2012. "Albert A. Johnson and the Agricultural School at Farmingdale." Long Island History Journal. https://lihj.cc.stonybrook.edu/2012/articles/albert-a-johnson-and-the-agricultural-school-at-farmingdale/.
Downs, Winfield Scott. 1934. Encyclopedia of American Biography: New Series. Vol. 9. 137-139. American Historical Society. https://books.google.com/books?id=qYEbAQAAMAAJ
Near East Relief (Organization). 1921. An American Report on the Russian Famine; Findings of the Russian Commission of the Near East Relief. New York: The Nation. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006855580.