Abstract

American farmers of the postwar period reduced labor requirements for production through the use of new machines and chemicals. Farm work was increasingly managerial and less physical. Observers struggled with how to represent this businesslike and technocratic farmer, first promoting space age, push-button imagery and then the notion of the “farmer in the business suit, “ before turning away from images of actual farm folk toward increasingly hyper-masculine paid models. This shift also corresponded with challenges to traditional masculinity, including the Cold War, the Farm Crisis, a proliferation of new masculinities, second-wave feminism, a growing number of women farm operators, and a new identity as a beleaguered minority. By boosting the size and stature of farm men, advertisers reassured farmers that even during a period of rapid social and cultural change and one in which the physical requirements of farming declined, farmers remained strong.

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NOTES

1. International Harvester advertisement, Successful Farming 58, no. 1 (Jan. 1960): 12-13. International Harvester enthusiasts recall a radio jingle that accompanied the Bigger Man campaign, featuring the lyrics: “Give me one of those big red tractors, International tractors, Leaders through and through, You’re a bigger man, A much bigger man, With power that works for you.” See, toyfarmertom, “IH Jingle from the 1960’s [sic],” Red Power Magazine, https://www.redpowermagazine.com/forums/topic/61373-ih-jingle-from-the-1960s/ (accessed Sept. 11, 2019).
2. Robert E. Ankli, “Horses vs. Tractors on the Corn Belt,” Agricultural History 54, no. 1 (Jan. 1980): 134-48; George B. Ellenberg, “Debating Farm Power: Draft Animals, Tractors, and the United States Department of Agriculture,” Agricultural History 74, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 545-68; Robert L. Williams, Fordson, Farmall, and Poppin’ Johnny: A History of the Farm Tractor and Its Impact on America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).
3. Toby Ditz cautioned scholars writing the history of masculinity about framing narratives in terms of constant crisis and fragility. If men were so besieged and so fragile, Ditz observed, “It is a wonder they ever got out of bed in the morning, and yet they constructed to their own benefit urban, industrial economies and imposed imperial systems straddling the globe at enormous cost to others.” Mary Louise Roberts elaborated, offering a healthy reminder that prevailing forms of masculinity were not necessarily in perpetual crisis. Instead, she countered that men were experiencing damage, a distinction that allowed for a far greater range of perception and response. Colin Johnson expressed it this way: “the history of masculinity is also a history of anxiety regarding the real or imagined loss of power and privilege.” For the purposes of this essay, the work of advertisers to create a hyper-physical form of rural masculinity represents an attempt to repair gender damage and loss. Toby L. Ditz, “The New Men’s History and the Peculiar Absence of Gendered Power: Some Remedies from Early American Gender History,” Gender and History 16, no. 1 (Apr. 2004): 6; Mary Louise Roberts, “Beyond ‘Crisis’ in Understanding Gender Transformation,” Gender and History 28, no. 2 (Aug. 2016): 358-66; Colin R. Johnson, “Masculinity in a Rural Context,” in The Routledge History of Rural America, ed. Pamela Riney-Kehrberg (London: Routledge, 2016), 163.
4. It is important to state that scholars have noted the presence of multiple rural masculinities. I recognize that there were and are multiple masculinities at play in the countryside, but the purpose of this essay is to deal with representations rather than masculinity on the ground. Hugh Campbell and Michael Mayerfeld Bell, “The Question of Rural Masculinities,” Rural Sociology 65, no. 4 (2000): 532-46.
5. With apologies for self-referencing, see J. L. Anderson, Industrializing the Corn Belt: Agriculture, Technology, and Environment, 1945-1972 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2009).
6. Tony Basso, “Pushbuttons by ‘60?” Wallaces’ Farmer (Jan. 21, 1950): 17.
7. Push-button technology dated to the late nineteenth century when, as Rachel Plotnik has argued, it represented a particular version of modernity that satisfied the desire for instant gratification and masked the messy power relations of process and power. See Rachel Plotnik, Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic, and the Politics of Pushing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018). After World War II push buttons received a major boost, with auto manufacturers such as Chrysler incorporating push-button transmission as standard features in 1956 models.
8. Gary Yeakley, “Ag in 2000 A.D.,” Ag Student 34, no. 2 (Dec. 1957): cover, 14-15.
9. “Pushbuttons Put Positive Chore Power under Your Thumb,” Electricity on the Farm (Aug. 1964): cover.
10. Alan E. Fusione, “John H. Davis: Architect of the Agribusiness Concept Revisited,” Agricultural History 69, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 326-48; John H. Davis and Kenneth Hinshaw, Farmer in a Business Suit (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), ix; John H. Davis and Ray A. Goldberg, A Concept of Agribusiness (Boston: Division of Research, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University, 1957); 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): 560-90.
11. Farmer in a Business Suit, ix.
12. Farmer in a Business Suit, 240-41.
13. Master Mix Feeds advertisement, “Businessman in the Blue Denim Suit,” Farm Journal 84, no. 5 (May 1960): 52C. Other examples from Farm Journal include: 84, no. 1 (Jan. 1960: 33; 84, no. 4 (Apr. 1960): 59.
14. Berit Brandth, “Rural Masculinity in Transition: Gender Images in Tractor Advertisements,” Journal of Rural Studies 11, no. 2 (1995): 126, 128, 130, 132.
15. Joshua T. Brinkman and Richard Hirsch, “Welcoming Wind Turbines and the PIMBY (Please in My Backyard) Phenomenon: The Culture of the Machine in the Rural American Midwest,” Technology and Culture 58, no. 2 (2017): 335-67.
16. Shannon Elizabeth Bell, Alicia Hullinger, and Lilian Brislen, “Manipulated Masculinities: Agribusiness, Deskilling, and the Rise of the Businessman-Farmer in the United States,” Rural Sociology 80, no. 3 (Sept. 2015): 285-313.
17. Catherine Anne Wilson, “A Manly Art: Plowing, Plowing Matches, and Rural Masculinity in Ontario, 1800-1930,” Canadian Historical Review 95 no. 2 (June 2014): 157-86; Deborah Fitzgerald, Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003); Brinkman and Hirsch, “Welcoming Wind Turbines.”
18. Katherine Jellison, “Get Your Farm in the Fight: Farm Masculinity in World War II,” Agricultural History 92, no. 1 (Winter 2018): 5-20.
19. Allis-Chalmers tractor advertisement, “Big Stick Makes You The Boss,” Successful Farming 58, no. 1 (Jan. 1960): 101.
20. Lasso Surface Blend herbicide advertisement, “Give It To Me Straight,” Successful Farming 81, no. 2 (Feb. 1983): 26F-26G.
21. Bayer Cropscience advertisement, “It’s Man vs. Weed,” Successful Farming 111, no. 1 (Jan. 2013): 20-21.
22. Massey Ferguson advertisement, “Man up with Massey,” Successful Farming 111, no. 12 (Nov. 2013): 18.
23. Valley Irrigation advertisement, “Proof that you know what you’re doing,” Successful Farming 111, no. 9 (Aug. 2013): 55; Eugene Blake, “Technology Stretches Water,” Successful Farming 111, no. 9 (Aug. 2013): 54.
24. Gil Gullickson and Ron Randall, “Return of the Billion Dollar Bug,” Successful Farming 111, no. 2 (Feb. 2013): 42-45.
25. Case Magnum tractor advertisement, Successful Farming 89, no. 2 (Feb. 1991): 6-7.
26. K. A. Cuordileone, “‘Politics in an Age of Anxiety’: Cold War Political Culture and the Crisis in American Masculinity, 1949-1960,” Journal of American History 87, no. 2 (Sept 2000): 515-45; Jeffrey Montez De Oca, “‘As Our Muscles Get Softer, Our Missile Race Gets Harder’: Cultural Citizenship and the ‘Muscle Gap,‘” Journal of Historical Sociology 18, no. 2 (Sept. 2005): 145-72; Robert D. Dean, “Masculinity as Ideology: John F. Kennedy and the Domestic Politics of Foreign Policy,” Diplomatic History 22, no. 1 (Winter 1998): 29-62.
27. John F. Kennedy, “The Soft American,” Sports Illustrated (Dec. 26, 1960): 16.
28. Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, 20th anniversary ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1998); Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963).
29. For examples of the discourse around men as consumers and redefined roles, see Laurie Freeman, “America’s Man Has Gone Domestic,” Advertising Age 62, no. 16 (1991): S-4; Jane Hodges, “Magazines Find Out What Men Want,” Advertising Age 66, no. 38 (1995): 8; Susan Hayward, “Men (Finally) Begin to Redefine Roles,” Advertising Age 62, no. 49 (1991): 20.
30. Mark Friedberger, Shake-Out: Iowa Farm Families in the 1980s (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1989); Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, “A Special and Terrible Irony: Hunger on Iowa’s Farms in the Agricultural Crisis of the 1980s,” Annals of Iowa 78, no. 4 (Fall 2019): 361-90.
31. Jenny Barker Devine, On Behalf of the Family Farm: Iowa Farm Activism since 1945 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2013).
32. Katherine Jellison, Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).
33. Robert A. Hoppe and Penni Korb, “Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms,” Economic Information Bulletin Number 111 (USDA ERS, April 2013); “Farm Demographics: U.S. Farmers by Gender, Age, Race, Ethnicity, and More,” Census of Agriculture Highlights (USDA, ACH12-13/May 2014).
34. Deborah Fink, Open Country, Iowa: Rural Women, Tradition, and Change (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986).
35. Zoe Murphy, “When Mom Takes a Job in Town . . .,” Wallaces’ Farmer (May 2, 1959): 61.
36. James M. MacDonald, Penni Korb, and Robert A. Hoppe, “Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming,” Economic Research Report Number 152 (USDA ERS, Aug. 2013).
37. John L. Shover, First Majority, Last Minority: The Transforming of Rural Life in America (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976); Gilbert C. Fite, American Farmers: The New Minority (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981).
38. See Paul K. Conkin, A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture since 1929 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009); R. Douglas Hurt, ed., The Rural West since World War II (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998); Hurt, The Rural South since World War II(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998); J. L. Anderson, The Rural Midwest since World War II (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014); Donald Holley, The Second Great Emancipation: The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and How They Shaped the Modern South (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000); Richard O. Davies, Main Street Blues: The Decline of Small Town America (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988).
39. Johnson, “Masculinity in a Rural Context,” 163-64; Robert Wuthnow, Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018).
40. Margaret Weber, “Goodbye City Life! Green Acres and the Agrarian Masculinity,” unpublished paper presented at the Agricultural History Society Annual Meeting and Conference, Briarcliff Manor, New York, June 25, 2016. Cited with author’s permission.