Bradford Knapp, agriculturist, son of Marie Elizabeth (Hotchkiss) and Seaman A. Knapp, was born at Vinton, Iowa, on December 24, 1870. His precollege schooling was mostly private. In 1885 his father moved from Iowa to Louisiana to manage an extensive plantation, where Knapp gained valuable practical experience in agriculture. In 1888 he entered Iowa State College; after a year he transferred to Vanderbilt University, where he received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry in 1892. After returning to Louisiana, he helped his father manage the plantation until panic brought disaster, when he determined to study law to see whether the loss had been legal. He entered Georgetown University in 1894 and later transferred to the University of Michigan, where he received a B.L. degree in 1896.
After three years as an employee of Iowa State College, Knapp began practicing law in Iowa. In 1909 he went to Washington as assistant to his father, who was then chief of demonstration work. After his father's death in 1911, Knapp was advanced to chief. He prepared a farm program for the South and originated the boys' and girls' farm clubs and home-demonstration clubs. He was sent to Europe in 1913 to study agricultural programs and in 1915 became head of the farm extension program in the South. For outstanding service in increasing food production during World War I, the Agricultural College of Maryland awarded him an honorary doctor of agriculture degree in 1918.
Knapp resigned from government employment in 1920 to enter academic work and served as dean of the School of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas, 1920–23; president of Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, 1923–28; president of Alabama Polytechnic Institute, 1928–32; and president of Texas Technological College, 1932–38. He served with distinction at each institution. As Tech's president, he worked toward development of state support, academic programs, and physical facilities of the relatively new institution. He began a division of graduate studies, the development of the first dormitories, and a new library. He also promoted campus landscape and beautification projects. Knapp Hall, a dormitory on the Tech campus, bears his name.
Knapp was married to Stella White in 1904, and they had five children. He was a Democrat, a Presbyterian, a Rotarian, a Mason, and a member of several fraternal and honorary societies. He served on the National Council of Boy Scouts, the federal Farm Board, and the National Economic League, among other civic involvements. He authored a number of USDA publications and contributed to the periodical literature on agriculture, chiefly on extension work, safe farming, and agricultural economics. Characteristic of the man and his work was his last article, published shortly after his death. The July 1938 article in the Progressive Farmer, a journal in which he had published as early as 1911, was captioned "Needed: A Safe and Secure Agriculture." In the article he outlined a plan of relief for the farming industry.
Knapp had a continuing concern for the family farm and was active in direction of the Ropesville Community Project. Under the Texas Rural Commission, later the Farm Security Administration, the project was established to provide housing and land as well as stock and equipment to low-income farmers. Modest housing, stock, and equipment were made available to more than thirty families in that South Plains project. In June 1938 Knapp presided over the twelfth commencement ceremonies of Texas Tech. He died of a heart attack on June 11, 1938, and was buried in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.