The DeKalb Agricultural Association, Inc. evolved from its beginnings as a county co-op in 1912 to a leader in agricultural research through innovative product development. In the early 1900s, DeKalb County farmers became increasingly aware of mounting agricultural problems. After decades of continual farming, farmers found their crop yields were not as prosperous as years before. Crop varieties were limited and Illinois did not have a seed law governing the type and quality of seed that could be distributed in the state. As a result, DeKalb County was becoming an increasingly popular place to dump bad quality seed. Although a number of agricultural education and farmers assistance groups existed in DeKalb County, these groups were limited in the type and amount of agricultural education they could provide farmers. Community leaders and local farmers banned together in late 1911 to discuss the hiring of a full-time County farm advisor.
On January 20, 1912, after considerable fundraising, the DeKalb County Banker's Association, the DeKalb County Newspapermen's Association and the DeKalb County Farmer's Institute, combined to form a farmer cooperative called the DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association (DCSIA). The mission of the DCSIA was to act as a governing organization to solicit funds and organize a committee to hire a county farm advisor who would assist in improving the fertility of the local soil and provide local farmers with advice
William (Bill) Eckhardt offering advice on the Nichol's Farm. Pictured left to right: Clarence, Ruth, Ira, Howard, Charles Nichols and William Eckhardt.
Tom Roberts, Sr. was hired in 1919 as the Assistant Farm Advisor to William Eckhardt. Roberts assisted with daily operations of both the DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association (DCSIA) and the DeKalb County Agricultural Association (DCAA), but his focus was on fundraising for the DCAA. After Eckhardt's resignation in 1920, Tom Roberts became the Farm Advisor for the DCSIA and served as the Secretary / Treasurer and Manager of the DCAA.
In 1918, The DeKalb County Agricultural Association hired Charles Gunn to manage the seed department. He was in charge of purchasing the best possible seed varieties that were suitable for DeKalb County soils. In addition, he was charged with breeding improved seed corn varieties. He was responsible for developing Gunn's Western Plowman, an open—pollinated, fast maturing corn variety that took well to the DeKalb County environment. Charlie continued to work in corn—breeding throughout his career with the DeKalb County Agricultural Association. By the end of his career, he was considered a leader in breeding corn varieties.
Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace spoke at a Farm Bureau meeting c. 1923. After the meeting Charlie Gun and Tom Roberts Sr. met with Secretary Wallace about new developments in hybrid corn. Wallace believed that four-way cross hybrid seed was more economical to the farmer, producing a greater yield than open-pollinated corn and greater disease resistance. DeKalb Agricultural Association's first corn breeding plot was started and experimentation began. Charles Gunn planted 45 varieties for inbreeding and observation. The first DEKALB hybrid was ready ten years later in 1935.
Corn inbreeding work begins. Charlie Gunn recording test results in a corn field. Keeping detailed records is an important part of research.
Charlie Gunn recording test results in the office.
In 1918, Charlie Gunn began experimenting to improve Webb's Western Plowman, an open pollinated variety, and adapt it to the growing climate in northern Illinois. His goals were increased yield and early maturity. His work resulted in Gunn's Western Plowman which was certified in 1924.
The first field of commercial DeKalb Hybrid 543 corn grown on a farm near Waterman, IL out yielded open-pollinated corn by 35%, an increase of 21 and 3/4 bushels of corn per acre. These tests showed the higher yield and greater potential of the hybrid variety. DEKALB begins commercial planting.
Dr. Basil Tstotis Inbreeding Corn Original Collection Black and White Photograph Mounted on Wood
DeKalb was so pleased with its corn product in its first years that their first advertisement slogan was "Let DeKalb Quality Hybrids be your Mortgage Lifter". The original version of this ad pictured a scrolled mortgage being lifted away by a pair of wings. Leo Olsen, DeKalb's first advertising manager had the idea to substitute an ear of corn for the mortgage scrolls and the "winged ear" DeKalb logo was born. This design symbolizes the promise of better seed resulting in a better profit to lift farmers out of their mortgages faster. This ad is the first full-page color print ad in the hybrid corn industry. It appeared in the October 24, 1936 issue of Prairie Farmer magazine. This ad was successful beyond expectations. Hundreds of farmers placed orders having to be returned because the farmers lived in areas unsuitable for the hybrid seed. This encouraged research expansion into other geographic areas in the cornbelt. Reaching farmers through print ads is a key communication tool that spans every decade.
By 1941, DeKalb had developed at least six commercially available varieties. The hybrids have similar characteristics; however, each variety is developed to withstand different soil types, weather conditions, and differnt forms of harvesting.
DeKalb went on to develop hundreds of varieties of corn, sorghum, alfalfa, and other crops to local soil and weather conditions around the world. Pictured here is a 1950 Acres of Gold (DeKalb's seed catalog) insert depicting local varieties for the United States
Multicolored DeKalb winged ear sign made of particle board. On the front, "DeKalb" is printed in red block letters, outlined in green. Four holes for attachment at top, bottom and two sides. On the back is plain, exposed particle board. It is labelled, "Belongs to Em". Wings fly to the left.
The signs, posters, and logos featured here are examples of field signs, dealer signs, advertisements, and facility signs used throughout the life of DeKalb.
DeKalb Cotton Seed Poster
DeKalb Hens at Work Sign
DeKalb Chix Nursery Sign
DeKalb Sudax Brand Sign
DeKalb 581 Wheat Sign
DeKalb Sorghum E-56a Poster
"No Wonder More Famers Plant DeKalb Corn than Any Other" Poster
Acres of Gold Insert: United States Corn Varieties Original Collection Did you know that over 95% of corn grown in DeKalb County is feed corn? Feed corn is a forage grain, meaning it is used as food for livestocksuch as cattle and swine. It is also used in the production of ethanol and in the production of corn-based foods such as corn syrup, corn sugar, corn oil, and corn starch.