Best Corn 107 Years Ago Yields Silver Basket and Gasoline Engine

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Courtesy Library of Congress

This photo from around 1906, location uknown, shows a horse-drawn plough turning under old corn stalks.

“Go away from town and get the news,” Collier’s Magazine advised its readers in 1910. With that in mind, the magazine traveled to an Iowa farm to feature a farmer who had earned an annual income of $6,000 after expenses.

Fred McCulloch of Poweshiek County had kept meticulous records related to the management of his 325-acre farm. His detailed charts and tables included information about the exact cost of planting, caring for and harvesting his grain, as well as the number of hours of labor expended by man and horses. He claimed many of his acres netted as high as $18.50 per acre, while his field of timothy made a loss of $3.06 per acre.

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Cheryl MullenbachCheryl Mullenbach is a former history teacher, newspaper editor, and public television project manager. She is the author of four non-fiction books for young people. Double Victory was featured on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” and The Industrial Revolution for Kids was selected for “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” Her most recent book, Women in Blue traces the evolution of women in policing.

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In addition to timothy, McCulloch grew corn and oats on his farm near Hartwick. His corn growing techniques had won him the coveted grand champion sweepstakes at the Iowa Corn Growers Association corn show held at the Des Moines Coliseum. His record 96 bushels per acre was better than any other in the state. McCulloch credited the “beautiful golden maize of the Reid yellow dent variety” for giving him the remarkable results.

McCulloch shared his secrets for superior oats yields with the Greene Recorder in the spring of 1910, after winning awards for oat growing. He said preparing the soil and the seeds were key to his success. According to McCulloch, the stalks should be “well broken,” raked and burned. Then the field should be given two good discings, followed by a “good harrowing” the opposite way of the disc in order to level the field.

Seed preparation was just as important as soil practices. McCulloch criticized the methods used by many farmers, who backed up to the granary with an old end gate seeder and scooped in the oats—dirt and all. He advised using only the plumpest oats treated for smut with a special recipe of formaldehyde mixed with water. After soaking the oats for 12 hours, the farmer should spread them out to dry thoroughly before sowing. Depending on the size of the seed, they should be sown at a rate of three to five bushels per acre, according to McCulloch.

Prizes at the corn show varied from a Wonder washer and a one-cross-cut saw to poultry food and sacks of cement. McCulloch’s first place prize for his high corn yield at the corn show was a five-horsepower gasoline engine and a silver cup molded into the shape of a bushel basket. The silver cup was valued at $150.

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Sources

• “Champion Acre of Corn in Iowa Co,” Ottumwa Tri-Weekly Courier, Dec. 17, 1910.
• “Corn Show Prizes Aggregate $20,000,” Register and Leader, Nov. 5, 1909.
• “Ear of Corn $100,” Bystander, Dec. 16, 1910.
• “How to Grow Oats,” Greene Recorder, Apr. 6, 1910.
• “Looker-On in Iowa,” Evening Times-Republican (Marshalltown), May 6, 1910.
• “McCulloch Raises Best Acre,” Evening Times-Republican (Marshalltown), Dec. 14, 1910.

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