Benjamin Franklin Harris, grandson of the late B. F. Harris and son of Henry Hickman Harris, was born on the old Harris farm in Champaign County, where his father was also a native, on September 30, 1868. He had of course liberal advantages during his youth and every incentive to make the best of his personal talents. Besides the common and high schools he attended the University of Illinois 1887 to 1889, and in 1892 was graduated from the law department of Columbia University. The law was only part of his preparation for life, not a profession. He returned home to assist in the management of farm lands and business enterprises, and he has continued the work of his father and grandfather as livestock farmers and bankers. From 1892 to 1899 he owned and developed and consolidated all electric street railway, lighting, power and gas plants in the twin cities. He succeeded his father as president of the First National Bank of Champaign, and in 1911-12 he served as president of the Illinois Bankers Association and has identified himself actively with many of its most important committees. He has also served as chairman of the Agricultural Commission of the American Bankers Association, and president of the Conference Committee on agricultural development and education of all state bankers associations. It was he who inaugurated the banker-farmer movement in 1908, and as the organizer of the Agricultural Commission of the American Bankers Association he held the post of chairman for five years. Mr. Harris also organized and edited the Banker-Farmer Magazine, which has a nationwide circulation.
In addition to his part in this notable movement Mr. Harris has a further distinction which is likely as time goes by to become greater than any other. This is the distinction of being “the father of the county agent movement,” which has rapidly spread all over the country until the county agent or agricultural adviser can be found in practically every progressive agricultural county in the country. While the need of systematic advice and cooperation between state and federal government and the individual farmer has been long recognized, it was Mr. Harris who definitely formulated the plan for such cooperation in the person of the county agent, and the great agricultural journals, including the Breeders’ Gazette, the Prairie Farmer and others, have taken pains to emphasize Mr. Harris’ leadership and the credit due him for inaugurating this movement.
Mr. Harris has for many years been active in the propaganda in Illinois for securing the adequate supervision of private banks by the state government. He has written and spoken on banking and agricultural subjects and in that field he is without question one of the most competent authorities in America today. He served three terms as president of the Champaign Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Harris is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, is a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason, belongs to the University, the Union League and South Shore Country clubs of Chicago and is a member of the Methodist Church. He married December 5, 1895, Miss May Melish of Cincinnati, and to them were born Henry H. Harris, William Melish Harris, B. F. Harris, Jr., and Elizabeth Harris. He is vice-chairman of the Illinois State Council of Defense.