Promotional poster offering a "gift for the grangers", ca. 1873.
President Andrew Johnson commissioned Oliver Kelley to go to the Southern States and to collect data to improve Southern agricultural conditions. In the South, poor farmers bore the brunt of the civil war and were suspicious of northerners like Kelley. Kelley found he was able to overcome these sectional differences as a Mason. With southern Masons as guides, he toured the war-torn countryside in the south and was appalled by the outdated farming practices. He saw the need for an organization that would bring people from the north and south together in a spirit of mutual cooperation and after many letters and consultations with the other founders, the Grange was born. The first Grange was Grange #1 in Fredonia, NY. Seven men and one woman co-founded the Grange: Oliver Hudson Kelley, William Saunders, Francis M. McDowell, John Trimble, Aaron B. Grosh, John R. Thompson, William M. Ireland, and Caroline Hall.
Paid agents organized local Granges and membership in the Grange increased dramatically from 1873 (200,000) to 1875 (858,050). Many of the state and local granges adopted non-partisan political resolutions, especially regarding the regulation of railroad transportation costs. The organization was unusual at this time because women and any teen old enough to draw a plow were encouraged to participate. The importance of women was reinforced by requiring that four of the elected positions could only be held by women.
1967 U.S. postage stamp honoring the National Grange
Rapid growth infused the national organization with money from dues, and many local granges established consumer cooperatives, initially supplied by the wholesaler Aaron Montgomery Ward. Poor fiscal management, combined with organizational difficulties resulting from rapid growth, led to a massive decline in membership. By the turn of the 20th century, the Grange rebounded and membership stabilized.
The Granger movement succeeded in regulating the railroads and grain warehouses. The birth of the Cooperative Extension Service, Rural Free Delivery, and the Farm Credit System were largely due to Grange lobbying. The peak of their political power was marked by their success in Munn v. Illinois (1877), which held that the grain warehouses were a "private utility in the public interest", and therefore could be regulated by public law. However this achievement was overturned later by the Supreme Court in Wabash v. Illinois (1886).
Other significant Grange causes included temperance, the direct election of Senators and women's suffrage. (Susan B. Anthony's last public appearance was at the National Grange Convention in 1903.)  During the Progressive Era of the 1890s to the 1920s political parties took up Grange causes. Consequently, local Granges focused more on community service, although the State and National Granges remain a political force.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, the position of the Grange as a respected organization in the United States was indicated by a membership that included Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, artist Norman Rockwell, businessman Frederick Hinde Zimmerman, and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. The monument to the founding of the Grange is the only private monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Grange membership has declined considerably as the percentage of American farmers has fallen from a third of the population in the early 20th century to less than two percent today. In the last 15 years, the number of Grange members has dropped by 40%. The State of Washington has the largest membership of any state, at approximately 13,000.
The Grange today
As of 2013Journal of Proceedings, the organization's report on its annual convention, the organization lays out its mission and how it works towards achieving it through fellowship, service, and legislation:
the Grange continues to press for the causes of farmers, including issues of free trade and farm policy. In its 2006
"The Grange provides opportunities for individuals and families to develop to their highest potential in order to build stronger communities and states, as well as a stronger nation."
As a non-partisan organization, the Grange supports only policies, never political parties or candidates. Although the Grange was originally founded to serve the interests of farmers, because of the shrinking farm population the Grange has begun to broaden its range to include a wide variety of issues, and anyone is welcome to join the Grange.
The Junior grange is open to children 5-14. Regular Grange membership is open to anyone age 14 or older. The Grange Youth, a group within the Grange, consists of members 14-35.
In 2013, the Grange signed on to a letter to Congress calling for the doubling of legal immigration and legalization for illegal immigrants currently in the United States.
Rituals and ceremonies
When the Grange first began in 1867, it borrowed some of its rituals and symbols from Freemasonry, including secret meetings, oaths and special passwords. It also copied ideas from Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible. Small, ceremonial farm tools are often displayed at Grange meetings. Elected officers are in charge of opening and closing each meeting. There are seven degrees of Grange membership; the ceremony of each degree relates to the seasons and various symbols and principles.
During the last few decades, the Grange has moved towards public meetings and no longer meets in secret. Though the secret meetings do not occur, the Grange still acknowledges its rich history and practices some traditions.
The Grange is a hierarchical organization ranging from local communities to the National Grange organization. At the local level are community Granges, otherwise known as "subordinate Granges". All members are affiliated with at least one subordinate. In most states, multiple subordinate Granges are grouped together to form "Pomona Granges". Typically, Pomona Granges are made up of all the subordinates in a county. Next in the order come State Granges, which is where the Grange begins to be especially active in the political process. State Masters (Presidents) are responsible for supervising the administration of Subordinate and Pomona Granges. Together, thirty-five State Granges, as well as Potomac Grange #1 in Washington, D.C., form the National Grange. The National Grange represents the interests of most Grangers in lobbying activities similar to the state, but on a much larger scale. In addition, the National Grange oversees the Grange ritual. The Grange is a grassroots organization; virtually all policy originates at the subordinate level.
The motto of the Grange is: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." Indeed, the word "grange" itself comes from a Latin word for grain, and is related to a "granary" or, generically, a farm.