The man behind the Hobo: Adams Dutcher’s legacy

Erin Beck

While the celebration of Hobo Day is a well-known tradition that has gone down in history at SDSU, the story of how it originated might not be as familiar. Unbeknownst to many students, Hobo Day draws its roots directly back to one person: Adams Dutcher.

A native of South Dakota, Dutcher attended SDSU, then known as South Dakota State College, as a freshman in 1902 at the age of 16. With the intention of heading into pharmacy, Dutcher soon changed his major to chemistry.

According to the SDSU Archives, Dutcher was a member of the “first Jackrabbit staff which issued the 1907 Jackrabbit.” He was also sports editor of what was then known as The Industrial Collegian in 1904.

After graduating in 1907 with a B.S. in chemistry, he worked as an instructor and an experiment station assistant with the title of assistant chemist. He received his M.S. from SDSU in 1910.

Dutcher then received an assistantship at the University of Missouri, a university that was noted for its biochemistry program and research in livestock nutrition. In 1912 he earned his M.A., as the University of Missouri at that time didn’t hand out M.S. degrees.

Dutcher was ready to head on his way to the University of Illinois as a graduate assistant in 1912 when he heard about the dilemma that students at his alma mater were having regarding a damper put on their festivities for their annual Night Parade.

An article from a 1923 issue of The Alumnus tracks the history behind Hobo Day, recording a letter that Dutcher had written.

“As I remember it Hobo day got its start over a couple of ice cream sodas in Tidball’s Drug Store,” Dutcher wrote. “I had just arrived home from Missouri and Roy Nord, Harry Rilling and myself went into Tidball’s and sat down to have a soda. I described Missouri’s Hobo day as they had asked me what could be done to revive the student spirit of old S. D. S. C. I suggested the Hobo day idea and the next year they tried it out. I believe that Nord, Hyde and Rilling were the leaders of the first Hobo day stunt.”

Although an alumnus at that point, Dutcher gave SDSU students the fuel to create a tradition that has had a lasting impact at State for 100 years. While Hobo Day didn’t last at the University of Missouri, it took a solid foothold in South Dakota and hasn’t left since.

After working as a grad assistant at the University of Illinois, Dutcher moved on to Oregon Agricultural College in 1913 where he worked as first an instructor and then an assistant professor. In 1917 he transferred to the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor and later worked his way up to the position of an associate professor and the head of section of animal nutrition.

Dutcher finally made his way to Pennsylvania State University in 1921. He acted as professor and head of the agricultural and biological chemistry department for 30 years before he retired. He was also the chairman of the Council of Research for Penn State from 1945 to 1951.

Dutcher gained many achievements during his education and career. According to the SDSU Archives, he served as a captain in the nutrition division in the Sanitation Corps during World War I.

Following World War II, he acted as a scientific consultant to the Field Intelligence Agency in Germany to report on the health of the German people.

On the academic front, Dutcher was instrumental in organizing the graduate school at Penn State. He also conducted research throughout his career, including research on vitamin stability from harvest through canning and storing food, thiamine intake of pigs and its content in pork products and the effect of storage on vitamin content of butter.

Dutcher has cut a wide swath in the world of academics. He has left just as big a footprint at SDSU, one that has left its stamp on Jackrabbits that spans a century. The Hobo tradition lives on.