Lloyd Noble, an Oklahoma oilman, established the Noble Research Institute (originally named The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation) in 1945 to help revitalize agriculture after the Dust Bowl. Today, the Noble Research Institute is the largest independent agricultural research organization in the U.S. The organization employs nearly 400 people from 20-plus countries.
Lloyd Noble’s Early Years
Lloyd Noble was born Nov. 30, 1896, in the young train depot town of Ardmore in what was then Indian Territory. His parents, Samuel Roberts and Hattie Noble, had come to the land-rich prairie from New York. The same year Lloyd was born, Samuel and his brother, Edward, opened a hardware store.
The Noble brothers’ store provided wares to agricultural producers, who were the area’s primary economic engines. As a young boy, Lloyd Noble swept floors, stocked shelves and delivered goods for the shop, where he frequently came in contact with these farmers and ranchers.
Noble admired farmers and ranchers for their strong morals and work ethic. He also saw how these early farmers succeeded in generating their prized commodity – cotton – with little regard for the conservation and vitality of the soil.
With Resources Come Responsibility
In 1921, the 24-year-old entrepreneur purchased his first oil drilling rig with assistance from his mother, who co-signed a $15,000 loan.
Noble helped revolutionize the oil and gas drilling industry through the next two decades, becoming a leader in the adoption of innovative technology. He capitalized on new ideas and equipment to drill deeper and faster than his contemporaries and quickly became one of the most successful and respected drilling contractors in the U.S.
While Noble found continued opportunity in energy production, the poor agricultural practices he had observed as a youth began to take a toll on Oklahoma. Failure to return nutrients to the soil resulted in a barren land that was unproductive and susceptible to erosion. A decades-long drought compounded the problem.
The winds that swept through the Great Plains in the 1930s carried off precious topsoil – literally blowing away Oklahoma’s economic lifeblood. Agriculture and other industries were stifled and those whose livelihoods depended on the land fled for an elusive financial sanctuary in the American West.
Oklahoma was in dire need of solutions, and Noble provided them. Noble had established himself as a respected oilman, but he knew that the revitalization of agriculture was the linchpin to Oklahoma’s future prosperity.
In a newspaper editorial published in May 1943, he said: “We believe that while at times we have felt the overshadowing presence of oil, we are living in an area that is essentially agricultural. … The land must continue to provide for our food, clothing and shelter long after the oil is gone.”
Building a Strong Foundation
On Sept. 19, 1945, Noble took funds from his oil businesses and created The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation as a resource to help prevent future disaster. Noble charged his new institution with “benefiting mankind by assisting agricultural producers.”
Early efforts focused on educating and encouraging area farmers and ranchers to practice land stewardship and resource conservation. Noble knew that proper soil management would help prevent another Dust Bowl and ultimately secure the land for future generations.
Lloyd Noble, 53, suffered a fatal heart attack on Feb. 14, 1950 – Valentine’s Day. Less than three months before his death, Noble was still advocating soil conservation, saying during a speech in the 1949: “No civilization has outlived the usefulness of its soils. When the soil is destroyed, the nation is gone.”
In the decades following Noble’s death in 1950, the organization conducted biomedical research, yielding important discoveries for the treatment of cancer and aging; bred new cultivars of agriculturally significant crops; and established a no-cost consultation program that helps thousands of farmers, ranchers and land managers achieve their goals while improving land stewardship.
In 2017, the organization became known as the Noble Research Institute as it began the process of becoming an agricultural research organization (ARO), a type of 501(c)(3) public charity created in 2015.
Today, activities are organized into four interconnected areas:
Learn more about the Noble Research Institute’s activities and how you can get involved at www.noble.org.