John Henry Connell, whose first name may have been James, director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and developer of the concept of regional agricultural research, the son of John Tinsley and Orpha (Salmon) Connell, was born in Walnut Hill, Arkansas, on July 9, 1867. He entered Mississippi A&M College (now Mississippi State University) in 1884 and graduated in 1888 with a bachelor of science degree. Thereafter he worked as an agriculturalist and continued his education. In 1893, after directing research on tick fever and cottonseed rations for steers, Connell earned a master of science degree, also from Mississippi A&M.
That same year he accepted the directorship of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (see AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION SYSTEM). He shared the belief of the Texas A&M Board of Directors that experimental substations, later known as agricultural research and extension centers, should be established in each area of Texas that had distinct soil and climate characteristics. As director, he traveled the state, solicited sites for substations, and listened to farmers. He crusaded for farmers' institutes and wrote popular articles that related to fundamental, as well as practical, problems faced by farmers. Connell insisted that government funds be spent according to congressional intent and for the benefit of the largest number of farmers. Through farmers' congresses at Texas A&M, he expanded the reputation of the experiment station and the college, obtained greater cooperation among farmers, and educated them about the latest scientific discoveries. These included the adaptability of corn varieties to different Texas soils; information about the life cycle of the Texas tick, knowledge resulting in an inoculation program by George Curtis and Mark Francis; and the influence of cottonseed oil products upon the butter industry (see COTTONSEED INDUSTRY).
When Connell resigned from the experiment station in 1902 to become associate editor and assistant general manager of Texas Farm and Ranch, he had developed a statewide system of substations. The locations and number of stations changed to meet the changing needs of Texas agriculture. Although others, such as Seaman Knapp, made important contributions to agricultural extension in the state, Connell seems to have done the most to foster the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. He continued to emphasize agricultural education with Texas Farm and Ranch. He became president of Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) in 1908. There he enjoyed the support of his friend William (Alfalfa Bill) Murray and served until 1914. He subsequently moved to Dallas and served for twenty-five years as executive secretary and vice president of the Dallas Automobile Association.
Connell was married to Maud Brock. He was a member of the First Methodist Church, the Masons, and the Sons of the American Revolution. He died in Dallas on May 26, 1943, and was buried in Grove Hill Cemetery, Dallas.