The fraternity of Alpha Tau Zeta was founded on the principles and ideals that John Ferguson Cunningham and Charles William Burkett initiated in Alpha Zeta at The Ohio State University on November 4, 1897. It was not a body to show favor but to serve; it was not a body to give honor to anyone -- but one where its members could be of help to others. The fraternity exists not merely for the benefits of brotherhood, nor for the profit of individuals, but rather that we may, as a group, contribute to the betterment of agriculture and rural life. Membership must serve as a stimulus to further effort rather than as a goal to be reached. We must conduct ourselves so as to bring honor and never dishonor and disgrace upon the name of Alpha Tau Zeta Fraternity. We must constantly keep before us the ideal of doing the greatest good for the greatest number.
One day back in 1897 two young men were walking across the campus at The Ohio State University, discussing student life and their plans for the future. They were students in agriculture and were looking forward to service in that field. As they stopped in front of the old Horticulture Building before going their separate ways, one of them suggested that the College of Agriculture should have a Greek-letter fraternity. Both of them were members of well known social fraternities, and knew the advantage that could come from the banding together of outstanding young men in a fraternal brotherhood.
Charles Williarm Burkett and John Ferguson Cunningham were roommates while studying in the College of Agriculture at Ohio State. While each already being a member of other social fraternities, Cunningham a member of Phi Gamma Delta and Burkett a member of Kappa Sigma; they both realized the need for fellowship among students dedicated to the cause of agriculture.
Burkett and Cunningham wanted an organized way to promote agriculture openly and cooperatively, and to gain respect for other agricultural students.
It was three years between the first planning and the actual organization of the Fraternity. On November 4, 1897 Burkett and Cunningham along with ten other men became the charter members of the first, and therefore the oldest, agricultural fraternity in America.
The Townshend Chapter at The Ohio State University existed from 1897 until 1996 as an all-male professional fraternity with a residence house. On the surface, the existence of a chapter house, membership in the Interfraternity Council, and participation in campus Greek activities gave the appearance of the chapter functioning as a social fraternity.
In many ways, that was true. The differences and they were important started with its high academic standards. AZ generally had the highest average chapter grades of the OSU fraternities. They also had a reputation of responsible behavior and being focused on obtaining an education. The Townshend chapter had another distinction, one being emulated recently by large national Greek organizations: it has had from its 1897 founding a policy of having a dry house. National Alpha Zeta grew, and over the years began to include non-house chapters, eventually allowing membership to anyone in the upper 2/5 of their class according to grade point average, regardless of gender or fraternal status.
Over the years, many actives and alumni had dealt with the issue of Townshend Chapter restricting membership. The issue elevated several times, dating back to the very early 1900s. After a visit to the Townshend Chapter by the National Executive Director of Alpha Zeta in the early 1990s, the issue was again elevated. In 1994, the Townshend Chapter invited the High Council of Alpha Zeta to have their summer meeting in Columbus. From this meeting, it was decided that the High Council would support the Townshend Chapter in searching out possible solutions to the Townshend Issue - that of not meeting the requirements of the National Alpha Zeta constitution. These infractions being not including membership from all students in the upper 2/5 of their class by GPA, including females and members of other social fraternities and sororities.
The conclusions were presented to both actives and alumni of Townshend Chapter. It was decided that the best possible solution for the National Alpha Zeta Fraternity and the Townshend Chapter of Alpha Zeta was for the Townshend Chapter to separate from the National Alpha Zeta Fraternity and to form a new all-male social fraternity.
The actives of the Townshend Chapter voted to start a new all-male social fraternity. Their vote was affirmed by a vote of the Townshend Chapter Alumni Association. The transition was final on May 16, 1996 when the Alpha Tau Zeta Fraternity was established.
However, the newly independent fraternity, Alpha Tau Zeta, would undergo further change as it grew. In the fall of 2006 Alpha Tau Zeta National Fraternity Past President, John Foltz, began correspondence with FarmHouse International Fraternity about the possibility of merging the two similar fraternities. Earlier in the year, FarmHouse had already received a vote of approval from the Ohio State Interfraternity Council to begin expansion efforts on the Ohio State campus. When the members of ATZ learned of FarmHouse's new expansion efforts, the ATZ Alumni Board of Trustees worked to learn more about the FarmHouse organization.
Talks between the two organizations flourished, and on May 17, 2008, the members of the Townshend Chapter voted by an overwhelming majority to pursue membership and chartering in FarmHouse International Fraternity. On May 4, 2010, the executive director of FarmHouse International Fraternity informed the members that ATZ received the needed 2/3 majority vote from both FH chapters and alumni associations to approve a new charter for the Alpha Tau Zeta Chapter.
During August 4-8, 2010, Alpha Tau Zeta hosted FarmHouse's 46th Biennial Conclave in Columbus, Ohio. On Saturday, August 7, 2010, Alpha Tau Zeta received its official charter from FarmHouse being recognized as the Ohio State Chapter of FarmHouse International Fraternity. Today, the Ohio State Chapter still recognizes its roots by being informally referred to as the Alpha Tau Zeta Chapter, and retains its position in the fraternity's history as the first and therefore the oldest agriculturally related fraternity in North America.