Thomas L. Martin
Thomas L. Martin was a professor of agronomy at Brigham Young University from 1921 to 1955 and was a renowned soil agronomist.
He was born into poverty in Lancashire, England, on November 21, 1885. His four older siblings died of malnutrition as infants. His father was a miner and his mother worked in a factory. His family moved to Wombwell, England, when he was two. He was five years old before he could walk.
His parents were introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were baptized in 1891. Tommy attended school at the age of six and hoped to become a teacher, but his schoolmaster labeled him “hopeless” and nearly held him back in third grade. In 1898, his parents wanted him to drop out of school (age 12) in order to work in the coal mines to earn money for the family to join the Saints. He was mechanically minded and loved to fix things. He opened his own business that allowed him to quit working at the coal mines.
- Ever determined, Tommy set his sights on Utah, where he could join the Saints and pursue his dreams. In a blessing by European Mission president Francis M. Lyman, Thomas received assurance: “He promised me that I would get an education and go just as far as it was possible for me to go in America; and that I should use my training for the training of the youth in Zion.”
In April 1902, he immigrated to Utah with a Latter-day Saint missionary. For the next two years he worked at a dairy and saved enough to help his family (which included 9 more children) come to Utah and he settled with them in American Fork.
Martin graduated from high school in 1908 then attended BYU. He distinguished himself as a zealous student with enthusiasm for debate and singing. At BYU he won various medals and held the champion’s position on the debate team; he also performed several roles in the school’s opera. He graduated from BYU in 1912 as valedictorian and gave the commencement address.
He then became principal at Big Horn Academy where he stayed for three years. He then entered Cornell University in 1915. He studied soil technology, plant physiology and bacteriology, and was even an assistant in the soil technology department. After one year, Martin was out of money and took a job as a principal at Emery Academy in Castledale, Utah, returning to Cornell the following year. He graduated in 1919 with a PhD in soil technology.
Martin was offered a position at Cornell if he would sign a letter stating he was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He refused.
He got a job teaching at Millard Academy in Hinckley, Utah, and was also hired as the soil man for the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company. He was offered a job at the University of South Carolina, but followed the advice of Spencer W. Kimball and declined the offer. When he joined the BYU faculty in the Agricultural Department the following week, he was one of only four BYU professors with a PhD.
In 1927, Martin became the president of Utah Academy of Sciences. He created classes in bacteriology and expanded those classes into a full master’s program. He also created classes in landscape architecture and, in 1935, became the dean of the College of Applied Sciences and served for 20 years.
- If a teacher’s success is measured by the accomplishments of his or her students, Martin’s success is perhaps unparalleled. By the end of his career, more than 150 “Thomas L. Martin boys,” graduates from agronomy-related fields, had gone on to receive doctorates and were represented on the staffs of 36 universities. Among his prodigies was Ezra Taft Benson, future U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and LDS Church President. In 1950 the American Society of Agronomy honored Martin for “having inspired more young men to go on to advanced degrees in soils than any other teacher in the nation.”
- He also developed a national reputation for his expertise in the lab, and his research was often applied to medicine and agriculture. He headed various local and national associations related to agronomy.”
Shortly before his death on June 16, 1958, he was presented with the first Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Teaching Award. The university dedicated the Thomas L. Martin in his honor.
Martin married Hattie Paxman in 1911 and they had six children. She died in 1950. He married Irma Patch in 1952. He also served in the Church of Jesus Christ for 17 years on the Sunday School general board.