Abstract

Like many other agribusinesses, Pioneer Hi-Bred sought to widen its control over the food and fiber industry after World War II. With the company’s expansion in the 1950s and 1960s, Pioneer’s interactions with rural people showcased a negotiated exchange of information and service. But even as it grew in size, the company was often confounded not by its competitors but rather its unruly dealers, unhappy farmers, and pesky academics. This paper explores the interaction between Pioneer, local dealers, and rural organizations during this period of economic growth. It investigates the reorganization of the agricultural power structure and how this corn company attempted to circulate their singular vision of agriculture. To do this, Pioneer pursued an overall marketing strategy that sought to infiltrate every layer of the rural community, from the individual farmer to the wider web of academic experts, with the ultimate goal of solidifying their institutional control over the agricultural process.

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NOTES

1. The literature on the development of agriculture in the twentieth century is vast, but several important books include, Gilbert Fite,
American Farmers: The New Minority
(
Bloomington
:
Indiana University Press
,
1981
); David B. Danbom,
Born in the Country: A History of Rural America
, 2nd ed. (
Baltimore
:
John Hopkins University Press
,
2006
); R. Douglas Hurt
Problems of Plenty: The American Farmer in the Twentieth Century
(
Chicago
:
Ivan R. Dee
,
2002
). Scholars who have explored topics of agrarianism and intellectual development include Deborah Fitzgerald,
Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture
(
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
2010
); Gabriel Rosenberg,
The 4-H Harvest: Sexuality and the State in Rural America
(
Philadelphia
:
University of Pennsylvania Press
,
2016
); and Alan I Marcus,
Agricultural Science and the Quest for Legitimacy: Farmers, Agricultural Colleges, and Experiment Stations, 1870–1890
(
Ames
:
Iowa State University Press
,
1985
).
2. J. L. Anderson,
Industrializing the Corn Belt: Agriculture, Technology, and Environment, 1945–1972
(
Dekalb
:
Northern Illinois University Press
,
2009
).
3. Mary Neth,
Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900–1940
(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
1995
); Jenny Barker-Devine,
On Behalf of the Family Farm: Iowa Farm Women’s Activism since 1945
(
Iowa City
:
University of Iowa Press
,
2013
).
4. Tore Olsson,
“Peeling Back the Layers: Vidalia Onions and the Making of a Global Agribusiness,”
Enterprise and Society
13
, no.
4
(Dec.
2012
):
832
61
; Benny J. Andrés,
Power and Control in the Imperial Valley: Nature, Agribusiness, and Workers on the California Borderland, 1900–1940
(
College Station
:
Texas A&M University Press
,
2015
).
5. Shane Hamilton,
“Agribusiness, the Family Farm, and the Politics of Technological Determinism in the Post—World War II United States,”
Technology and Culture
55
, no.
3
(July
2014
):
561
; see also Shane Hamilton,
“Revisiting the History of Agribusiness,”
Business History Review
90
, no.
3
(Autumn
2016
):
541
45
.
6. Company lore insisted that Iowa’s open-pollinated seed dealers attempted to sabotage Wallace in 1925. Meeting in a secret caucus the night before the contest, these men tried to outlaw hybrid seeds, claiming that Wallace’s corn lacked practical and therefore commercial appeal. Fortunately, for Wallace and Pioneer, their pleas went unanswered;
“A History of Pioneer’s First Ten Years,”
Undated, pp.
15
16
, File 32, Box 1, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., MS 542, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library, Ames, Iowa (hereafter cited as Pioneer International Records).
7.
A History of Pioneer’s First Ten Years
,
17
38
.
8.
A History of Pioneer’s First Ten Years
,
38
46
.
9. I am adopting James Scott’s definition of high modernism. A high-modernist ideology is a
“muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and, above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws”
James C. Scott,
Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed
(
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
1998
),
4
.
10. Nancy K. Berlage,
Farmers Helping Farmers: The Rise of the Farm and Home Bureaus, 1914–1935
(
Baton Rouge
:
Louisiana State University Press
,
2016
).
11. David Danbom,
The Resisted Revolution: Urban America and the Industrialization of Agriculture, 1900–1930
(
Ames
:
Iowa State University Press
,
1979
).
12. Neth,
Preserving the Family Farm
,
141
46
.
13. Anderson,
Industrializing the Corn Belt
,
7
8
.
14. Sarah Philips,
This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America, and the New Deal
(
Cambridge
:
Cambridge University Press
,
2007
).
15. Ezra Benson was a key contributor to the contentious farm policy debate of the postwar period. It was within this debate that the terms
“agribusiness”
and “family farm” received their political and cultural implications. Agribusiness was imbued with notions of technological determinism, an idea that industrial, consumer-driven agriculture was an inevitable hallmark of progress; Hamilton,
“Agribusiness, the Family Farm, and the Politics of Technological Determinism,”
560
70
.
16. First described by agricultural economist Willard Cochrane in 1958, the agricultural treadmill became an important theory in agricultural economics. It argues that the adoption of new agricultural technology and scientific advancements leads to overproduction, which, in turn, drives down both commodity prices and farmer income. Farmers then continue to increase their yields in an effort to make up ground, and the cycle continues; Richard A. Levins and Willard W. Cochrane,
“The Treadmill Revisited,”
Land Economics
72
, no.
4
(
1996
):
550
53
.
17.
“A History of Pioneer’s First Ten Years,”
pp.
2
4
.
18.
Pioneer Kernels
, Oct.
1955
, p.
11
, File 26, Box 2, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Eastern Division Records, MS 541, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library (hereafter cited as Pioneer Eastern Division Records).
19. Gender standards of the 1950s and 1960s assumed that the world of business was a realm of masculinity, an attitude no doubt shared by Pioneer’s leaders and the local salesmen. In fact, one internal memo specifically stressed that women should not be invited to a certain meeting, given its serious business nature. However, just as other scholars of rural gender have shown, the lines between customs and acceptability were often blurred. Company records show a small number of female dealers of seed. Some worked in partnership with their spouses (celebrated on the pages of Pioneer’s company magazine
Kernels
), others took over after their husbands passed, and one or two even worked on their own accord.
20.
William Motley to Richard Bibbins
, Nov. 6,
1955
, File 39, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
21.
Pioneer Kernels
, Oct.
1955
, p.
11
, File 26, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
22.
Roswell Garst to Salesmen
, Feb. 15,
1960
, File 33, Box 8, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
23. For more information on communal networks and mutuality, see Neth,
Preserving the Family Farm
.
24.
Fred Stroup to Indiana Salesmen, Jan. 15, File 51, Box 7, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
25.
Lowell Miller to Pioneer Supervisors
, Dec. 1,
1958
, File 51, Box 7, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
26.
Grover Hahn to Nelson Urban
, Oct. 22,
1959
, File 1, Box 1, Pioneer International Records.
27.
Pioneer Kernels
, Sept.
1955
, p.
2
, File 26, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
28.
“And One to Grow,”
Pioneer Kernels
, May
1959
, p.
2
, File 52, Box 7;
“One Trip across the Field,”
Pioneer Kernels
, July
1964
, p.
4
, File 51, Box 9, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
29.
Roswell Garst to Salesmen
, June 25,
1956
, File 32, Box 3, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
30.
Letter from Wayne Skidmore
, Aug.
1960
, File 8, Box 8, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
31. Wayne Skidmore to Salesmen, Mar.
1960
, File 80, Box 8, Pioneer Eastern Division Records;
“Calendarize’ Your Corn Harvester,”
Pioneer Bulletin
1
,
1960
, pp.
1
4
, File 80, Box 8, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
32. Anderson,
Industrializing the Corn Belt
,
54
60
; Jack Ralph Kloppenburg,
First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492–2000
(
Madison
:
University of Wisconsin Press
,
2004
),
116
19
.
33.
Pioneer Kernels
, Mar.
1955
, pp.
5
11
, File 26, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
34.
“New World’s Record: Pioneer Hybrid 241 Bushels per Acre,”
File 26, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
35. E. N. Stoner to
Bob Woods
, Sept. 7,
1954
, File 7, Box 2; Father Wegner to Pioneer, Dec. 23, 1955, File 6, Box 3, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
36. Walter Moore to John Boilini, Elbert Gaugler, Glenn Karch, John Larrison, Mar. 2,
1964
, File 55, Box 9,
Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
37. O. D. Powell to Frank Hotze, July 28,
1955
, File 73, Box 3,
Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
38.
“News Article,”
undated, File 73, Box 3,
Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
39. O. D. Powell to
All Division Chairmen
, Apr. 11,
1955
, File 73, Box 3, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
40. Danbom,
Resisted Revolution
; Charles Rosenberg,
No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought
(
Baltimore
:
John Hopkins University Press
,
1997
); Neth,
Preserving the Family Farm
.
41. R. A. Bibbins to Herman Koch, Jan. 14,
1955
, File 102, Box 1; R. A. Bibbins to
Lawrence Scholl
, Mar. 2,
1955
, File 23, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records.
42. Gordon McCleary to Floyd Collins, Jan. 30,
1964
,
File 13, Box 10, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
43. Harris Hix to R. A. Bibbins, Feb. 3,
1956
,
File 33, Box 3, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
44. R. A. Bibbins to Lawrence Scholl, Mar. 2,
1955
,
File 23, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
45. Rosenberg,
The 4-H Harvest
,
55
.
46. George Beal and Joe Bohlen,
“The Diffusion Process,”
Special Report No. 18
(
Agriculture Extension Service, Iowa State College
, May
1957
),
56
77
. Beal and Bohlen’s theory was widely applied in the marketing strategies of agribusinesses. On Monsanto’s use, see J. H. Senger,
“Case History How a New Product is Marketed,”
Selected Talks from the Seminar on Business Opportunities for the Chemist and Chemical Engineer Graduate
, June 29 and 30,
1965
, pp.
22
32
,
File 5, Box 2, Series 11, Monsanto Company Records
,
University Archives, Washington University in St. Louis
,
St. Louis, Missouri
.
47. Deborah Fitzgerald,
The Business of Breeding: Hybrid Corn in Illinois, 1890–1940
(
Ithaca, NY
:
Cornell University Press
,
1990
); Kloppenburg,
First the Seed
.
48. Robert Woods to James Blanton, Feb. 24,
1956
,
File 31, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
49. Robert Woods to S. R. Miles, Mar. 26,
1956
,
File 91, Box 3, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
50. E. C. Rossman to Robert Woods, Nov. 17,
1954
,
File 108, Box 1, Pioneer Eastern Division Records. In terms of today’s money, this was a $31,653 investment. Dollar Times Inflation Calculator
, http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm (Accessed July 19,
2016
).
51. Kenyon Payne to Robert Woods, Mar. 2,
1955
,
File 108, Box 1, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
52. Robert Woods to Kenyon Payne, Mar. 7,
1955
,
File 108, Box 1, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
53. A. D. Stuart to A. R. Marston, Mar. 12,
1956
; A. R. Marston to A. D. Stuart, Mar. 22,
1956
,
File 54, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
54. Fitzgerald,
The Business of Breeding
; Kloppenburg,
First the Seed
.
55. Vance York to Gordon McCleary, Oct. 24,
1963
,
File 13, Box 10, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
56. Gordon McCleary to
“Gentlemen,”
Feb. 26,
1964
,
File 13, Box 10, Pioneer Eastern Division
; Allan Leffler, Own Newlin, F. F. Dicke,
“When and How to Alter Your Plans for Controlling Soil Insects in Corn,”
1964
,
File 13, Box 10, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
57.
File 13, Box 10, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
58. Robert Woods to Kenyon Payne, Apr. 14,
1959
,
File 40, Box 6, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
59. E. C. Rossman to Robert Woods, May 17,
1959
,
File 40, Box 6, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
60. Kenyon Payne to Robert Wood, May 18,
1959
,
File 40, Box 6, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
61. A. R. Marston to H. F. Robinson, Mar. 25,
1960
,
File 62, Box 7, Pioneer Eastern Division
.
62. Anderson,
Industrializing the Corn Belt
; see also Katherine Jellison,
Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1912–1963
(
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
2000
); Ronald Kline and Trevor Pinch,
“Users as Agents of Technological Change: The Social Construction of the Automobile in the Rural United States,”
Technology and Culture
37
, no.
4
(Oct.
1996
),
763
95
.
63. Leonard Feuerstein to
“Gentlemen,”
May 3,
1955
,
File 25, Box 1, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
64. Elmer Mosier to
“Sirs,”
Feb. 14,
1964
,
File 4, Box 9, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
65. Clarence Gross to
“Sirs,”
June 30,
1960
,
File 70, Box 8, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
66. Charles Johnson to
“Gentlemen,”
Jan. 11,
1956
,
File 36, Box 2, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.
67. O. T. Eldridge to
“Sirs,”
Dec. 29,
1959
,
File 72, Box 8, Pioneer Eastern Division Records
.