Who comes to mind when you think of famous Iowans in agriculture? I asked many colleagues, friends and family this question while writing an article for the latest issue of Iowa Ag Today.
Dr. Norman Borlaug was usually named first. And rightfully so. His research on wheat in Mexico and rice in India led to large increases in yields. He is credited with saving a billion lives and starting the Green Revolution.
Henry A. Wallace was also frequently mentioned. He did extensive research improving corn genetics through crossbreeding. In 1926, he founded the first hybrid seed corn company, now DuPont Pioneer. Wallace went on to become Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President of the United States.
George Washington Carver, although not born in Iowa, is almost always named when discussing famous Iowans in agriculture. He earned is B.S. and M.S. from Iowa State University and also taught there. Carver’s research changed farming practices. He suggested that farmers alternate soil-depleting crops, like cotton, with crops, such as peanuts, soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. He also developed new uses of these soil-enriching crops, so planting them would be profitable.
Although, these are the most well-known Iowans in agriculture, there are many others who have made a lasting impact in the field— not just in Iowa, but around the globe.
- Jessie Field Shambaugh is known as the “Mother of 4-H”. She developed youth programs that integrated practical work familiar to farm boys and girls, into the school curriculum. Her efforts brought about a significant change in rural school teaching, and her “corn clubs” grew into one of the greatest youth movements in the 20th century, 4-H.
We have a Madison County farmer to thank when eating Red Delicious apples. The original Red Delicious was first found as a volunteer seedling on Jesse Hiatt’s farm. Hiatt tried to kill it, but it kept coming back. Finally Hiatt decided to let it grow, eventually bringing its first apples to a fruit show. It won first prize and quickly gained popularity for its taste and hardiness.
- In 1892 John Froelich built the first gasoline-powered tractor that propelled itself backward and forward. This invention helped pave the way for modern farming. Froelich, with other investors, founded the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company. In 1918, the company was purchased by Deere and Company, now John Deere.
Ada Hayden was a botanist, educator, and conservationist. As curator of the Iowa State University Herbarium, she added more than 40,000 specimens to its collection. Hayden focused much of her work to learning about and ensuring the preservation of Iowa’s tallgrass prairie areas. The 210 acre Hayden Prairie State Preserve in Howard County is named in her honor.
- After the youngest of her six children went to school, Mary Garst went to work for the livestock side of the Garst Company. She managed a 6,000 head breeding herd, one the first in the country to become computerized. Garst was a pioneer and role-model for women in leadership positions in agriculture. She became the first female president of any state’s cattlemen’s organization and was honored as Breeder of the Year by the North American Cattle Breeders Association. Garst also served on boards of the Chicago Federal Reserve, Burlington Northern Railroad, International Harvester and Northwestern Bell Telephone. She was one of the first women to have such prominent roles at national organizations and businesses.
Griffith Buck’s work can be found in home gardens, especially in cold climates. As faculty in the Horticulture Department at Iowa State University, his research focused on geranium and breeding. Buck is most recognized for his work on disease-resistant and hardy roses that would withstand cold Iowa winters without extensive protection. He is credited with developing more than 85 varieties of roses, including ‘Carefree Beauty’ and the first a hybrid blue rose. An extensive collection of Dr. Buck’s roses are on display at Reiman Gardens in Ames.
In 1965, Jon Kinzenbaw opened a small welding shop that grew into one of the largest agricultural equipment manufacturers in North America. His inventions, like the single-axle low-profile grain cart and the folding planter, have helped revolutionize modern farming. Today Kinzenbaw is the president and CEO of Kinze Manufacturing Inc, and continues to farm. Planting and harvesting his own crop helped him to truly understand the needs of farmers and develop ideas to make their work more efficient.
As I learned about these accomplished Iowans, I am inspired to share their stories with students. My hope is that they will be inspired too and aspire to be the next great innovative Iowan in agriculture.