Actually a set of two law
s passed by the U.S. Congress, the first in 1862 and the second in 1890.
The 1862 act, proposed by Representative Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, granted 30,000 acres of public land (this in a time when the federal government still owned large tracts of land in virtually every state, not just the West) per U.S. Senator and Representative to each state for the purpose of establishing "Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts." Should the land provided not be suitable, the states were allowed to sell the land given, provided the proceeds were either invested for or applied to this cause.
States remaining in the Union quickly took advantage of this act, and after the Civil War was over, the states returning from the Confederacy did the same. This is the genesis of "A&M" schools, such as Texas A&M; the "A&M" stands for Agricultural and Mechanical. Many land grant schools that no longer include "A&M" in their names started out this way; for example, Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) started out as Virginia A&M College.
The Act of 1890 forced the states, mostly those that were former Confederate states, to more fairly apply the 1862 Act's proceeds to black colleges and universities. Many states actually have more than one land-grant institution, but there is usually one such school that serves as the state's primary land-grant school.
Some well-known land-grant institutions are: