Lloyd Noble 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 nonprofit agricultural research organization in the U.S.
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 early adulthood, Noble taught school and served briefly in the U.S. Navy during World War I before enrolling in the University of Oklahoma. Eager to begin his own venture, Noble left college early, seeking fortune in the state's most lucrative new enterprise – oil.
In 1921, the 24-year-old entrepreneur purchased his first drilling rig with assistance from his mother, who cosigned 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 United States.
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 livelihood 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 Robert Noble Foundation as a resource to help prevent future disaster. Noble charged his new institution with "benefiting mankind by assisting agricultural producers."
The Samuel Robert Noble Foundation's 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 fall of 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, 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.
Today, research focuses on forage-based beef cattle production, the primary agricultural activity in the region. Research spans from basic plant science to applied research on the farms. The organization also educates youth and adults about science and agriculture.
Continuing the Legacy
The Board of Trustees, which is composed largely of Noble's descendants, unanimously elected to separate the activities of The Samuel Robert Noble Foundation. The decision went into effect May 1, 2017.
The organization's research, education and consultation activities remained with the existing entity and began the process of becoming an agricultural research organization (ARO), a type of 501(c)(3) public charity created in 2015. The organization was renamed the Noble Research Institute, LLC.
The philanthropic activities, including the grant-making and scholarship programs of the original organization, were placed in a new, private foundation that carries the same name, The Samuel Robert Noble Foundation. The new Noble Foundation continues to be a major funding source for the Noble Research Institute as both organizations carry out Lloyd Noble's vision.
While each era brings a unique set of challenges and equally novel solutions, the Noble Research Institute's purpose remains steadfast – safeguard the soil and help agricultural producers advance land stewardship practices.